West Florida has had VSU’s number as of late.
The Argonauts have won three straight in the series dating back to a stunning 38-35 upset over the Blazers in the second round of the 2019 NCAA Division II playoffs.
The No. 24 Blazers (7-1, 4-1 Gulf South Conference) will be looking to reverse that trend on Saturday when they face the No. 18 Argos (6-2, 5-1 GSC) in Pensacola, Florida.
Though not a traditional rivalry, the series has quickly gained importance following the rapid ascension of the Argos football program, which was started in 2016.
Saturday’s meeting will be no different as both teams are fighting for at least a share of the GSC title and playoff positioning. West Florida and VSU were both under consideration in the first NCAA Super Region Two rankings, released on Oct. 23.
“It’s another chance for us to play and stay in the hunt for something,” head coach Tremaine Jackson said. “Not too often can you control your own destiny, and we’re still in the position right now.”
The Argos are coming off a 24-21 win over previously undefeated Delta State. The win came just a week after West Florida fell to West Alabama, 10-6.
“They are who we thought they were,” Jackson said of West Florida’s win over Delta State. “That’s the slogan in football around this time, right? They got really good skill guys. They got a receiver that’s doing really well. The quarterback can throw it a country mile. If I hadn’t had been here a year ago, it would probably be a little different, but we’ve seen him play. We’ve seen him throw the ball well. They’ve got another receiver that caught the overtime tying touchdown against us.”
West Florida quarterback Peewee Jarrett is second in the league in passing. On the year, Jarrett has completed 60.9% of his passes for 2,030 yards and 20 touchdowns while throwing just four interceptions.
In last year’s meeting, a 32-31 overtime win for the Argos, Jarrett went just 15 for 34 passing but racked up 309 passing yards and four passing touchdowns, adding 121 yards on the ground. In overtime, Jarrett tossed the game-tying touchdown and then ran it in himself for the game-winning two-point conversion.
Despite West Florida’s offensive success, Jackson says the defense is where the Argos are most different from a year ago. The Argos are tops in the GSC in scoring defense, yielding just 14.5 points per game.
“Defensively is where they’re most improved,” Jackson said. “They’ve got four guys up front that want to cause havoc, and you can tell. As a D-line guy, you notice that right off the cuff, and so they’re a little different there.”
Saturday will be the Blazers’ second ranked matchup of the season. In their first matchup, critical mistakes led to the Blazers falling behind and ultimately losing 49-25 against Delta State.
Jackson says the team has taken a different approach in their preparation against West Florida compared to Delta State.
“I think three weeks ago, we probably put a little bit too much pressure on ourselves,” Jackson said. “We just don’t play well in that matter. When we got out and play and concentrate and execute in the right way, we seem to play better, so we’ve approached it that way.”
One player in particular who struggled was junior quarterback Sammy Edwards. Edwards tossed three interceptions in the loss, including two on back-to-back possessions near the end of the first half.
Jackson believes that the moment simply got too big for Edwards but was proud of how he responded following the game.
“It was his first time in that moment, and anytime it’s your first time doing something, there’s always a moment size that you got to check,” Jackson said. “It was too big for him. I think he settled in. Sammy came up after we lost to Delta. He was here working on the field after the game. We got done at six. He was here until like nine o’clock that night working. He understood what happened, and it’s always good as a coach when your players understand even before you tell them.”
Additionally, Jackson has full confidence in Edwards moving forward because of how he’s approached game preparation.
“He’s gone about going to work a lot differently than he did before that game, and so I got the utmost confidence in him,” Jackson said. “You’re talking about a dude that won the team, and so we knew we knew were going to have a chance because he did that. He’s playing at a high level right now, and so I’m glad he’s my quarterback.”
Written by Austin Bruce, Co-Editor in Chief. Photo courtesy of Austin Bruce.