With two weeks to prepare, the Valdosta State Blazers are geared up to begin Gulf South Conference play with a bang against the long-time rival Lions of North Alabama. The contest extends well beyond conference implications, as both teams currently hold a ranking among the top 25 teams in the country according to the most recent American Football Coaches' Association poll.
Both the Blazers (1-0) at No. 22 and the Lions (1-0) at No. 20 will enter Saturday's game with something to prove. The Lions are looking to rebound from an season-opening 31-12 loss, albeit to FCS No. 2 ranked Jacksonville State. In the contest, the Lions were held to 222 total yards while the Gamecocks racked up 502 total yards. Despite falling behind 21-0 early, however, UNA did manage to outscore JSU by a score of 12-10 in the second half. Quarterback Jacob Tucker completed 14-of-24 passes in the game for 170 yards, and Julius Jones accounted for 76 receiving yards with four receptions on the day. Jacob Tucker represented the leading rusher in the game after netting 48 yards on the ground.
The Blazers came away with a win in their opening matchup against the Albany State Golden Rams, but Head Coach Kerwin Bell hasn't been shy over the course of the last two weeks about his expectations for improvement heading into VSU's second game of the season.
Valdosta State's offense put up 16 points in the third quarter, which proved to be just enough for a victory, thanks to the impressive performance of the Blazers' defense. The only points allowed by the "Black Swarm" came on a single touchdown in the second quarter, and a host of forced turnovers helped VSU overcome an offensive effort that tallied just 204 total yards.
Saturday's contest pits the new against the old, as VSU's all-new head coach Kerwin Bell squares off against long-time UNA head coach Bobby Wallace. Wallace, now in his 28th collegiate season and 15th season at North Alabama, became UNA's all-time winningest coach last season with 115 wins against just 50 losses and one tie at UNA.
The rivalry between the Blazers and the Lions is arguably the most storied in Valdosta State history. The two programs have squared off in each of the 34 years of VSU football history, and have faced each other six times in postseason play. Today's contest marks the 41st contest in Blazer football history, with the Lions holding a 23-16-1 advantage. Oddly enough, the visiting team has won eight of the last nine games between the Lions and the Blazers. Saturday's contest marks the first ever Gulf South Conference matchup for Coach Bell.