Valdosta, Ga. - No. 8 Valdosta State used three special teams touchdowns to defeat No. 10 North Alabama 37-23 in the NCAA Quarterfinals at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium Saturday afternoon.
Two of the three scores came during the decisive fourth quarter, that saw VSU (11-1) score 21 unanswered points. Trailing 23-16 with just over 11 minutes remaining in the contest, the Blazers forced a UNA punt. Sherard Reynolds fielded the punt at the Blazer 35 and raced 65 yards to tie the game at 23-23.
The VSU held on the next Lion possession, forcing another punt from Will Batson. Roger King grabbed the kick on the VSU 20 and eluded a tackler. A block from Jamaal Clark sprang King free, allowing him to run untouched down the VSU sideline for a 30-23 Valdosta State lead. King's 80-yard punt return was the longest in school history for a score, eclipsing the old mark of 78 established by Reynolds last season against Southern Arkansas.
On the ensuing North Alabama possession, Travis Harrison sacked Lion quarterback A.J. Milwee on first down, backing the ball to the UNA 11. On the next pass, Milwee hit Brandenn Picket on a shovel pass, but Pickett proceeded to fumble the ball. VSU's Michael Cullen recovered the ball on the UNA 3 yard line, setting up a three-yard Willie Copeland-to-Cedric Jones touchdown pass for the final score of the game.
North Alabama (10-2) opened the scoring on its first drive of the game as it marched 79 yards on 14 plays. Milwee capped off the drive with a six-yard touchdown run, but Scott Shurden's point after attempt was wide left.
Valdosta State quickly answered as Ronnye Nelson fielded a Batson kickoff and sprinted 91 yards untouched for a touchdown. Zac Williams' point after attempt was wide right, leaving the game tied at 6-6.
After a 13-yard Reynolds punt return gave the Blazers the ball in North Alabama territory at the 38, Copeland and Jones hooked up for a 26-yard completion for a 13-6 Blazer lead.
Shurden kicked a 23-yard field goal with 1:44 remaining in the first quarter to cut the Lion deficit to 13-9 before a Milwee-to-Ed Gant 32-yard completion with 7:43 remaining in the second quarter posted North Alabama to a 16-13 advantage.
VSU responded with a 33-yard field goal from Williams 72 seconds before intermission to even the game at 16-16 heading into the halftime break.
Milwee directed a nine-play, 84-yard drive in the third quarter to give the Lions their seven point second half advantage. He rushed for five yards and completed three-of-four passes for 50 yards, including a 13-yard completion to Rocky Coleman for the 23-16 UNA lead.
Copeland completed 24-of-35 passes for 214 yards and two touchdowns in the game. Michael Terry carried the ball 14 times for 58 yards, giving him 1,028 yards on the season. Jones caught a VSU-high seven passes for 48 yards while Jeffrey Felton had four catches for 69 yards. Valdosta State tallied 330 yards in kick returns in the contest while tallying 306 yards in total offense.
William Montford led the VSU defense with 11 tackles while Reynolds had nine stops, an interception and three passes defended.
North Alabama finished the game with 413 yards of total offense, including 318 passing yards from Milwee, who completed 31-of-45 passes. Picket picked up 68 yards rushing on 15 carries while Jason Messing caught seven passes for 89 yards.
Valdosta State advances to next weekend's NCAA Semifinal round and will play California (Pa.). The day, time and location of the game will be announced by the NCAA on Sunday, December 2.