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Redshirt freshman wide receiver Rodney Bullard breaks off a big catch and run during VSU's 42-14 win over Shorter.

Defensive grudge match awaits as Blazers travel to West Alabama

The race for the playoffs has heated up in Valdosta as the Blazers enter the final stretch of the regular season.

In the latest NCAA Super Region 2 rankings, VSU clocked in at No. 3 in between Gulf South Conference foes Delta State and West Florida.

The Blazers (8-1, 5-1 GSC) will be looking to protect that spot as they hit the road for the final time in the regular season to face the West Alabama Tigers (4-4, 3-3 GSC) on Nov. 4 at 2 p.m.

VSU is coming off a thrilling, come-from-behind victory over West Florida last week. The Blazers stormed back from an early 14-0 deficit to stun the Argos in the final minutes.

Head coach Tremaine Jackson believes it was a night-and-day difference compared to their game against Delta State, VSU’s lone loss on the year.

“The sideline lingo was a little bit different,” Jackson said. “It wasn’t ‘Oh my gosh, here we go.’ It was, ‘Hey, we’re still in it.’ The defensive touchdown helped change the attitude of what was going on on the sideline and gave us a spark. … Down 14-0, we hadn’t been down 14-0 to start a game all season, but things happened. To watch these guys fight back and continue to keep the faith as we say around here, it was fun to watch.”

Additionally, Jackson says there is an abundance of excitement amongst the team following the win.

“We’re just excited that we still control our own destiny,” Jackson said. “Big game on Saturday that we were overly excited about. We probably didn’t play well in the first half, but we’re at this point now. We’re just excited to be in control of what happens to us. … We have moved on, but we’re excited to be in control.”

The win over the Argonauts not only put the Blazers on track to make the playoffs but also kept them in the hunt for the GSC title. The Blazers are currently tied with Delta State and West Georgia for first in the conference. The Statesmen and the Wolves face each other on Saturday.

As for VSU’s game against West Alabama, the Tigers have had an up and down season. The Tigers have struggled to have sustained success on the season despite ranking third in the GSC in scoring defense, giving up just 20.5 points per game.

That’s because West Alabama’s offense ranks at the bottom of the GSC in scoring, averaging just 14.3 points per game. That hasn’t stopped the Tigers from stringing together a two-game win streak that includes a 10-6 upset over then No. 6 West Florida.

“They’ve had some struggles on offense, so we got to make sure that they continue to struggle on offense through our game,” Jackson said. “Defensively, they’re as stout as stout can get. You’re talking about a team that held West Florida to six points. They held them out of the end zone, and so we got our hands full again this week.”

Meanwhile, the running game continues to be a concern for the Blazers. In the win over West Florida, VSU finished with -3 rushing yards. Saturday proves to be another stiff test as the Tigers are coming off a 14-6 win over Chowan where they held the Hawks to zero rushing yards.

Jackson is hoping his team’s previous games against similar defenses such as those seen in their games against West Florida and North Greenville will help them in their matchup against the Tigers.

“When you get in conference play, all of those games follow all those games, right,” Jackson said. “I don’t think people really understand how tough it is in our league. I’ve been in the FCS [Football Championship Subdivision] and the FBS [Football Bowl Subdivision], and there’s some players that could’ve played at a lot of places that I’ve been on every level, right?”

Jackson added: “We’ve been able to see those defenses early, like a North Greenville, like a West Florida, coming back to back from the West Florida. I think we’re just on this stretch where we’re seeing great defenses, so hopefully, we handled it the right way and our players execute in the right fashion.”

Written by Austin Bruce, Co-Editor in Chief. Photo courtesy of Austin Bruce.

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