The Blazers (7-1, 4-1 Gulf South Conference) rode a big game from junior quarterback Sammy Edwards to a 42-14 win over the Shorter Hawks (3-5, 1-4 GSC) on Homecoming.
Edwards finished the game going 30 of 45 for 279 yards for three passing touchdowns while adding 60 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
Head coach Tremaine Jackson praised Edwards for his perseverance as a Blazer after spending two years as the backup quarterback to Ivory Durham.
“He’s a dude, but he didn’t quit,” Jackson said. “He sat for two years. That not normal anymore. People will sit for two days or two games and they get in the portal, but that dude sat. He didn’t do anything but hold field goals his first year, but he didn’t quit. … He’s our guy. Really excited that’s he’s my quarterback, and I look forward to see him getting better because his future is so bright, he doesn’t even have the right glasses.”
Saturday’s game was a stark contrast from Homecoming a season ago. The Blazers were knocked off by Mississippi College, 49-40, as part of a midseason four-game skid.
Jackson took great pride in being able to check off the Homecoming box this time around.
“We had a really good week of practice, really good week of prep, and so I felt like we had a chance to win, but to check that box off is big for us,” Jackson said. “A lot of people don’t take stuff like that as a big deal. I do. I’m an emotional creature. I look back at everything we didn’t do and did, and to check that box with a brand new group of guys that didn’t know anything about that, it was big.”
As for Edwards, one of the few players who was on the team to witness that Homecoming loss, it’s been a long road back.
“It’s awesome coming from last year to this year, just being able to see the good and the bad,” Edwards said. “We’ve done a lot of work in the offseason. Not just getting good guys but getting the right guys, getting good people. I’m really proud of the way guys played this year and how we’re leading into the playoffs now.”
Though the Blazers ultimately cruised to a victory, it was tough sledding early on. The Hawks took the opening possession and went the distance for a touchdown.
The Blazers responded on their ensuing drive with a steady march to the end zone. Edwards finished off the drive with a nine-yard touchdown run to tie the game.
That run was just one of several big plays Edwards made on third down. For the game, the Blazers were 7 of 11 on third down, with Edwards converting all seven of those either in the air or on the ground.
“For some reason, we like to put ourselves in third down,” Edwards said. “Not very good on first and second, so we make it hard on ourselves. Our staff does a good job at preparing us for that third down. We do a drill like that every day, every week, in practice, so we’re always ready.”
Still, Shorter bounced back and drove deep into VSU territory to start the second quarter. However, they came up emptyhanded as they missed a 16-yard field goal.
The Blazers took advantage of the lucky break, going back down the field for another score. A 17-yard pass from Edwards to junior wide receiver Council Allen set up a five-yard touchdown run by sophomore running back Isaiah Flowers the next play to give VSU a 14-7 lead.
After trading punts, the Blazers tacked on another touchdown just before halftime to go up 21-7. Graduate wide receiver B.K. Smith hauled in a five-yard touchdown pass to cap off the drive.
It was a big moment for the Blazers as they bounced back after receiving an early punch — or elbow if you ask Jackson— from the Hawks.
“We kind of caught our breath and we punched back,” Jackson said. “It was one of those deals to where we knew if we could get on them early, [we could outlast them]. Having 21 points at halftime was big for us. That was a goal of ours. We wanted 21 or more points at halftime. We felt like in the second half, we could outlast them.”
The Blazers did exactly that.
While Shorter forced a quick stop to start the half and went down the field to make it a one-score game, it wasn’t enough.
The passing game shined on the Blazers’ next drive as Edwards completed passes to five different receivers. It was the Smith connection that got the Blazers on the board again though as he caught a two-yard pass in the end zone.
Hometown product Travis Tisdale made plays both on the ground and in the passing game to set up VSU’s next score. After ripping off a 43-yard run, the junior running back caught a four-yard touchdown pass three plays later as the Blazers went up 35-14.
After shutting down the Hawks on their next drive, the Blazers drained the clock with a long drive that spanned nearly eight minutes. Faced with a fourth-and-goal from the two-yard line, the Blazers found pay dirt yet again as sophomore running back Bud Chaney ran it in.
It was a satisfying end to Homecoming for Jackson.
“We hadn’t done that,” Jackson said of the fourth down score. “Three weeks ago, we were at Chowan, and we couldn’t do that. We didn’t do it. You talk about things. You achieve what you emphasize. We’ve been emphasizing that stuff, and to see them do it, it makes me feel like we do know what we’re talking about as coaches.”
In addition, Jackson was proud of the way his team finished the job the right way unlike a year ago.
“When you have people that come home to see their alma mater, to see a football game, we want to give them something to go home and talk about,” Jackson said. “We didn’t do that a year ago. We were unsuccessful at that. It was disappointing. I thought we finished the right way, and we got that done.”
The Blazers will be back on the road to face the West Florida Argonauts (6-2, 4-1 GSC) in Pensacola, Florida, on Oct. 28 at 5 p.m.
Written by Austin Bruce, Co-Editor in Chief. Photo courtesy of Austin Bruce.