UWA eliminated from playoffs
Austin Scott and Cedric O’Neal rushed for three touchdowns each to lead Valdosta State to a 49-21 victory over West Alabama in the second round of the NCAA Division II Football Playoffs Saturday at Bazemore-Hyde Stadium.
The win improves the Blazers to 9-2 and sets up Valdosta State to host Carson-Newman in the quarterfinals next week. West Alabama ends it season as the Gulf South Conference champions at 9-4.
“Credit Coach (David) Dean and his staff,” UWA head coach Will Hall said. “They did a great job getting ready for us and had a phenomenal plan.
“They just outclassed us today, beat us in every way, especially in the second half,” Hall said. “It was a disappointing day for us because we hoped to perform better. It was unfortunate that our season had to end today, but we took a major step with our program this year.”
UWA built a 21-12 lead by the half, but Valdosta State dominated play in the final two quarters. The Blazers outgained the Tigers 242-61 in the second half, scoring five rushing touchdowns on a UWA defense that was ranked fourth in Division II in total yards allowed.
West Alabama got off to a blazing start, building a 14-0 lead in just less than seven minutes, on the strength big plays by Tiger special teams and the defense.
Malcolm Butler gathered in the opening kickoff and returned it 55 yards to set up a 4-yard touchdown run by Gary Johnston. The score capped a seven-play, 31-yard drive that took 3:44.
A personal foul penalty on Valdosta State on the ensuring kickoff backed the Blazers up and Shontral Ford recovered a Blazer fumble at the 11 yard line to set up Johnston’s second TD run of 1 yard.
“They made some mistakes to help us early and we took advantage of that,” Hall said. “They took it to us in the second half and we couldn’t match their energy. They won the battle in the trenches and their running backs ran hard.”
Valdosta State threated late in the first period, but Otha Foster intercepted Cayden Cochran in the end zone to end the threat on the first play of the second quarter. The interception was Foster’s sixth of the year and his fourth against VSU.
The Blazers got on the board with 10:58 left in the first half on a 13-yard run by Austin Scott. The extra point was no good and UWA led 14-6.
After limiting UWA to one first down on the next three possessions, Valdosta State got on the board again on a 15-yard scoring pass from Cochran to Seantavious Jones on a fade into the left corner of the end zone. The extra point try was again no good and UWA led 14-12 with 6:10 left in the half.
West Alabama’s offense roared back on its next possession to go 58 yards on eight plays, capping the drive on a 24-yard scoring pass from Johnston to Dakota Daniel and UWA led 21-12 with 1:57 left before the intermission.
VSU had the hot hand to start the second half, scoring on it first two possessions. Scott capped a 10-play, 87-yard drive with a 4-yard run and following a UWA fumble deep in its own territory, Cedric O’Neal scampered in from 11 yards out. Two-point tries were good following both scores and Valdosta led 28-21 with 6:25 left in the third period.
Touchdown runs of 9 and 2 yards by O’Neal late in the third and early in the fourth quarter, respectively, stretched the Blazer lead to 42-21 with 11:43 left to play. Scott capped off the day with a 15-yard run with 4:42 left.
Scott added 133 yards on 20 carries to his three scores, Cochran completed 23-of-33 passes for 240 yards and a touchdown, Regginald Lewis had five receptions for 52 yards for the Blazers. Jeremy Grable recorded 11 tackles and Lawrence Virgil had three sacks and five tackles for loss for VSU.
George Michael Rowe led West Alabama rushers with 54 yards on 15 carries. Johnston completed 6-of-11 for 73 yards and a score. Kyle Caldwell completed 3-of-13 for 45 yards. Linebackers Ben Brooks and Deon Lacey had seven tackles each for the Tigers.