VALDOSTA, Ga. – An impressive start fizzled out for the Blazer football team on Saturday night at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium, but the VSU defense forced some key turnovers down the stretch to give Valdosta State a 40-28 Gulf South Conference win over West Florida.
In a historic matchup that marked the first-ever GSC game for the Argonauts, the Blazers took the first possession and marched down the field behind the arm of Roland Rivers. On third-and-ten at the UWF 30-yard line, however, Rivers' helmet came off, which forced Head Coach Kerwin Bell to call on Adam Robles for one play. Robles took advantage of the opportunity and completed a 27-yard pass to Donovan Bolden on fourth down to put the Blazers in front 7-0.
After forcing a punt, Rivers went right back to work and constructed an eight-play drive, in which two potential touchdowns were called back due to penalties. The Blazers would not be denied, however, and a 1-yard touchdown carry by Rivers capped off the 39-yard push to put VSU up 13-0 after a failed two point conversion attempt.
On the ensuing drive for UWF, Valdosta State struck again and did so quickly. Just four plays into the drive, a botched snap was scooped up by Brandon Roe for a touchdown. The fumble recovery for the score represented the first for Valdosta State since October 3, 2015, when Egim Etta-Tawo accomplished the feat at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium against North Alabama.
Working with a 20-0 lead, the contest took a turn in favor of UWF before the end of the first quarter, as the Argonauts benefitted from a fumble recovery of their own to take over deep in Valdosta State territory at the 15-yard line. West Florida capitalized on the opportunity and used five plays to punch it in and cut the deficit to 20-7.
The two teams traded possessions throughout most of the second quarter, before former VSU quarterback Kaleb Nobles came to life and passed for 61 yards during a four-play drive, before lunging into the endzone on a two-yard carry to narrow Valdosta State's lead to 20-14 and account for the final points of the first half.
After the half, both offenses struggled to put together substantial drives, but the VSU Black Swarm defense helped the cause when Jeray Demby intercepted a pass from Nobles deep in UWF territory. Demby returned the pick all the way down to the West Florida 1-yard line, and it took just one play, a touchdown carry by Cedric Hollingshed, for VSU to open up a 27-14 lead over the Argos.
Nobles and the Argonauts bounced right back on the following drive and delivered another touchdown, thanks in large part to a pair of incredible catches by Antoine Griffin and Anas Hasic. The third completion of the drive was an improbable touchdown reception on a post route by Griffin, which accounted for 18 of Nobles' 323 passing yards in the game.
Blazer punter Gavin Wilson was forced to kick one of 12 punts, a new VSU record, after the Argonauts held the Blazer offense in check yet again. As a result, UWF saw their first opportunity of the game to take the lead, and with another series of deep-route receptions, Nobles and company did in fact jump in front 28-27.
The lead didn't last long for the Argonauts, as VSU saw Hollingshed take control at the running back position to lead a drive in which the freshman delivered multiple carries and his second touchdown run of the night. The rush accounted for five of Hollingshed's 78 rushing yards and put the Blazers back on top with a 33-28 advantage, following another failed two-point conversion attempt.
West Florida saw several opportunities to reclaim the lead throughout the fourth quarter, but the Blazer defense held strong and forced a turnover on downs late in the frame to set up VSU for their final score on a Jordan Germany rush. With the tacked on extra point, Valdosta State spread the lead out to 40-28 and held on until the final buzzer sounded.
Nobles, who took a few moments for an emotional gathering at midfield with his former Blazer teammates following the game, completed 21-of-52 passes on the night with two touchdowns. Ishmel Morrow played a huge part in those numbers with a host of tremendous grabs that led to 156 receiving yards. His 10 receptions marked the most for a Blazer opponent since Darryl Collins of West Alabama hauled in 10 against the Blazers nearly two years ago on October 30, 2014.
The Valdosta State defense was the difference for the Blazers, forcing seven turnovers in the contest and holding the Argonauts to -6 rushing yards, a mark which tied the eighth fewest allowed in the history of Blazer football.
The Argonauts suffered their first-ever conference loss to fall to 2-2 overall and 0-1 in GSC play. Meanwhile, the Blazers improved to 2-1 on the season and evened up their conference record at 1-1.
Valdosta State's next contest will take place at Memorial Stadium next Saturday in Waycross, Ga. against Kentucky State. Kickoff is slated for 2:00 p.m.