Gulf South

GSC Notebook: Valdosta State Ascends To Familiar Spot

GSC Notebook: Valdosta State Ascends To Familiar Spot

Four teams are very much in contention for the Gulf South championship, but only the Valdosta State Blazers have complete control over their destiny.

Oct 21, 2021 by Kyle Kensing
GSC Notebook: Valdosta State Ascends To Familiar Spot

Sitting alone atop the Gulf South Conference and ranked in one of the top two spots in the national polls isn’t anything new for Valdosta State. 

How the Blazers got there is another story. 

On the day West Alabama celebrated the 50-year anniversary of its NAIA national championship team, then known as Livingston College, the Tigers came out predictably fired up. 

Quarterback Jack McDaniels twice found Tyriq Martin for touchdown connections in the first quarter, demonstrating why West Alabama started the season undefeated and climbed into the top 10 of the polls. 

In response, Valdosta State showed why its defense ranks among the nation’s very best. The Blazers did not give up another touchdown after the initial flurry and cruised to a 42-17 win. 

Coupled with West Georgia’s own stout defensive performance at West Florida, the GSC landscape flipped from what it was a week ago but to a familiar scenario. The final weeks of the championship chase have the rest of the league playing catch-up to the Blazers, the conference’s sole remaining unbeaten.

They went into Week 7 one of three Gulf South teams still unblemished, though matching up with the breakout surprise West Alabama guaranteed one of the two their first defeat. 

West Georgia, meanwhile, went into Pensacola looking to avoid losing any further ground and possibly complicating its playoff case. A road win over the reigning national champion bolsters the Wolves’ resume considerably. 

West Georgia jumped ahead of West Florida 17-0 with a first-half onslaught, not unlike the 30-10 halftime deficit the Argos overcame at Delta State on Oct. 2. And, like West Florida’s win over Delta State, the champions rallied to take the lead in the second half. 

The Wolves’ response after West Florida pulled ahead 26-24, however, made the difference. 

Harrison Frost threw the second of his two touchdown passes, hooking up with Terrill Cole to cap a monster seven-catch, 118-yard day for the receiver. 

While that was the game-winner on the scoreboard, Frost also tossed what could be considered the game-winner for purposes of keeping the UWF offense off the field. On a third-and-four with about three minutes remaining, Frost fired a quick rope to Mechane Slade. 

Slade ran a simple route out of the slot, getting just beyond the sticks and giving himself just enough room free from the defender to make the grab. An easy pitch-and-catch play, but monumental in the potential stakes for the postseason. 

West Georgia catapulted all the way to No. 4 in the AFCA Top 25. If the Wolves hold serve in the coming week at home against North Greenville, it sets up a visit to Valdosta State that could land UWG home-field advantage all the way through the semifinals. 

The Wolves’ trip to Valdosta State on Halloween eve kicks off a wild stretch to close the regular season. West Florida travels to West Alabama the following week, then wraps up the campaign at home against Valdosta State. 

All four teams are very much in contention for the Gulf South championship, but only the Blazers control their destiny—it’s just a difficult road laid out ahead of them in the weeks to come. 

West Georgia's Clean Sweep

A UWG Wolf won each of the three GSC Player of the Week honors for Week 7 (Cole split his Offensive Player of the Week recognition with Valdosta State’s Brian Saunds, who caught for 168 yards and a touchdown). 

Interestingly enough, West Georgia could have made multiple other cases for individual honors. For example, safety Matt Miller won Defensive Player of the Week after his scoop-and-score, but teammates Nasier Currie-Sudler had two tackles for loss, a sack and a forced fumble; and Deontae Overstreet continued what’s been an outstanding year for him generating turnovers. 

Overstreet’s interception against UWF goes with a conference-leading three forced fumbles thus far. 

Whomever doused David Dean in the postgame celebration, however, might be Week 7’s real MVP. 

A Wild One In Cleveland

Arguably no team at any level of college football, and certainly not the GSC, has endured as much heartbreak as Delta State. 

The Statesmen’s 42-34 loss in double overtime to North Greenville was their fourth one-possession defeat of the campaign. Delta State succeeded in turning the multifaceted North Greenville rushing offense into an attack reliant on the pass. 

But, all credit to Bryce Fields, who racked up 250 yards on just seven completions, three of which went for touchdowns. Fields finished with a net of -11 rushing yards on a day that Delta State held the Crusaders to just 95 on the ground, but the quarterback’s RPO naked bootleg on a third-and-eight in the second overtime was clutch. 

That 10-yard gain set up the game-winning touchdown.