Blazers Game against Florida Tech set for ESPN3

| November 9, 2015

Valdosta State Football

CLEVELAND, MS – The Valdosta State Blazers took another step closer to the 2015 NCAA Playoffs after surviving a thrilling 40-34 triple overtime Gulf South Conference win over the Delta State Statesmen in Cleveland, Miss. on Saturday night.

The win marked Valdosta State’s first at Parker-McCool Stadium since 2005 and lifted the Blazers to a 7-2 overall record, 4-2 in GSC play. Meanwhile DSU fell to 5-5 overall and 1-5 in league play.

The win, coupled with West Georgia’s loss to Florida Tech, sets up a key match up Saturday as the Blazers host those same Panthers for VSU’s Homecoming game.

The win over Delta State resulted from a third overtime period, when Cedric O’Neal scored his third touchdown of the night on a seven yard carry into the end zone to give VSU a 40-34 advantage. The Blazers failed on the two point conversion try, but Delta State’s attempt to answer fell short due to a fumble. Mat Mathews was there for the recovery, and a huge celebration ensued.

O’Neal’s critical score in the closing moments of the contest capped off a historic night for the senior, in which he ran for 190 yards to become Valdosta State’s all-time rushing leader. His new career total of 3,907 eclipsed Aaron Jenkins’ previous mark of 3,859, and his three scores on the night pushed him to a GSC-leading 13 touchdowns on the season.

An equal impact was made by the Valdosta State defense, who forced six turnovers in the contest. The Statesmen posted 394 offensive yards, but Kenny Moore led the Blazer secondary to four interceptions, including a 94-yard pick-six for Moore that matched a record for the longest interception return in VSU football history.

“When I first caught the ball, I was just glad to have intercepted the pass,” said Moore, a graduate of Lowndes High School. “But then I looked downfield, and I saw the receiver in the backfield as the only player between me and the other end zone. Sharmaine Washington put a great block on him, and I thought ‘We’ve gotta get it now.’ I couldn’t believe it when I scored, but I immediately thanked God when I did.”

The interception, one of two for Moore on the night, represented the first score of the second quarter, and the third of three consecutive touchdowns for Valdosta State that helped the Blazers bounce back from a DSU touchdown on the opening drive of the contest. Shortly thereafter, VSU tacked on with a 27-yard field goal by Gavin Wilson at the 8:06 mark of the second quarter that opened up a 24-7 advantage for the Blazers.

Following the field goal, the DSU defense silenced the Blazers for the remainder of the first half while cutting VSU’s lead to 24-13 with a 6-play, 67 yard drive midway through the second quarter that quarterback Tyler Sullivan capped off with a 5-yard touchdown pass to Darius Powell.

In the third quarter, the Statesmen continued to hold the Blazer offense at bay, allowing just one field goal before scoring another touchdown on a 7-yard pass from Sullivan to Jarvis York. The TD toss for Sullivan, one of five for the senior on the night, brought the Statesmen’s deficit to within a single score at 27-20, and Sullivan struck again early in the fourth quarter to force a 27-27 tie.

The Blazers saw an opportunity to win the game late in regulation with a field goal, but Wilson’s 37-yard attempt sailed wide left with 1:23 to play in the fourth.

The miss set the stage for a dramatic overtime finish that saw both teams score in the first overtime period and both teams fumble the ball away in double overtime. With the score tied at 37-37, the Blazers used the opening possession in the third overtime period to take their final lead of the night.

For the Blazers on the attack, EJ Hilliard led the passing effort for Valdosta State with 159 passing yards, and Roland Rivers delivered a clutch pass in the first overtime period to Donovan Bolden for VSU’s only passing touchdown of the night. O’Neal, who has 489 rushing yards in his last three games and led the Blazers to 306 rushing yards on the night, credited his offensive line following the memorable win.

“Breaking this record with these guys, the offensive line, Coach Dean, and all of my friends, I couldn’t be happier,” stated O’Neal. “A huge shout out to our offensive line for sticking together through three overtimes and some frustrating moments tonight. They stuck together to help us come out with a win, and I credit this record to our O-line.”

The victory sets up a huge regular season finale next weekend at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium against the Florida Tech Panthers, who defeated the No. 1 ranked West Georgia Wolves on Saturday. The matchup has been selected by the NCAA as the Division II Football Game of the Week and will be aired live on ESPN 3 and the WatchESPN app. Kickoff is slated for 3:00 p.m.

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