Valdosta, GA - No. 23 West Alabama used 20 straight points in the first half to defeat No. 16 Valdosta State 39-28 in Gulf South Conference football action at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium Saturday evening.
With the win, West Alabama improves to 3-1 on the season and 1-0 in GSC play while VSU falls to 2-2 overall and 0-1 in conference play.
Valdosta State took the opening drive 75 yards on 12 plays to open the scoring. After a false start to open the drive backed the Blazer up five yards, Austin Scott picked up eight yards on a second down run and Cayden Cochran connected with Reggie Lewis for a 25-yard gain. Two plays later, Scott gained six yards on the ground and an eight-yard completion to Quin Roberson gave VSU a first down on the UWA 33. Scott picked up 12 more yards on three carries while Cochran found Gerald Ford for a pair of completions, the last a four-yard gain for a touchdown and a 7-0 Valdosta State lead.
After the two teams traded punts, West Alabama evened the game at 7-7 on a Malik Lofton reverse run. Gary Johnston keyed the drive with a pair of runs for 41 yards and faked a run on the Lofton reverse for the touchdown.
After blocking a 39-yard field goal attempt by Valdosta State, the Tigers gained the lead with 10:23 to go in the second quarter on a 41 yard field goal by Ryne Smith, who also added a 38-yard try on UWA's next drive to give West Alabama a 13-7 advantage. The Tigers closed out the first half scoring with a 34-yard pass from Kyle Caldwell to Stacey Graham for a touchdown with 49 seconds that established a 20-7 halftime lead for UWA.
Valdosta State quickly regained the lead in the second half as, on their first drive of the third quarter, Graham Craig connected with Ford for a 31-yard touchdown. The duo connected on all three Blazer completions on the drive for 57 yards as they cut the VSU deficit to 20-14.
On the ensuing UWA drive Trokon Gaye sacked Caldwell and forced a fumble that was recovered by VSU's Tyler Josey in the end zone to put Valdosta State back in front 21-20.
The Blazer lead was short lived as West Alabama marched 81 yards on 10 plays on the next drive to score on a Reggie Hall touchdown run. The key play on the drive came on a second and 19 play from the UWA 10 when Johnston kept the ball on an option play and picked up 38 yards. Matt Willis gained 32 yards on three carries on the drive, the last that moved the ball inside the VSU five to set up the Hall score.
Ryne Smith added a 27-yard field goal with 36 seconds remaining in the third quarter to give UWA 30-21 lead while the Tigers turned an Otha Foster interception, one of three he had on the night, into a four-yard scoring run by Johnston to push their advantage to 15 points after the two-point conversion try failed.
The Blazers closed to eight points when Craig connected with Quin Roberson for a five-yard touchdown pass with 7:18 remaining in the game, but saw Foster intercept passes in Tiger territory on each of the final two VSU drives to end the game.
VSU tallied 383 yards on the evening, led by 115 yards on a career-high eight receptions by Gerald Ford. Austin Scott led the rushing game with 53 yards while Craig completed 12-of-22 passes for 157 yards and two scores, but also threw three interceptions. Chris Pope led the VSU defense with 13 tackles.
Willis gained 178 yards on 27 carries for the Tigers, who rushed for 332 yards in the game. Caldwell and Johnston combined to pass for 111 yards, with Johnston also rushing for 120 yards, while Shontal Ford led the Tiger defense with eight tackles.
Valdosta State returns to action Saturday, September 29 when it hosts Edward Waters in a non-conference game at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium. Kickoff is slated for 7:00 p.m.