Blazers Top Harding 23-17

SEARCY, Ark. – Valdosta State scored 20 unanswered second quarter points to defeat Harding 23-17 in Gulf South Conference football action at First Security Stadium Saturday evening.

Harding (4-4, 2-3) got on the scoreboard first as Zac Ross scored on a 70-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. After blocking a 38-yard field goal attempt by the Blazers (4-3, 4-2), the Bison took over on their own 21 yard line. Ross picked up seven yards on first down before Jeremy Holt gained one on the ground on second. Ross, in his first start at quarterback, called his own number on the next play and broke through the line to outrace the VSU defense, giving HU a 7-0 lead.

Micah Canterbury added a 26 yard field goal for Harding with 0:10 to go in the first quarter to push the Bison advantage to 10-0 before Valdosta State used a partially blocked punt to get its first points of the night with 10:16 to go in the second quarter.

The blocked punt gave the Blazers the ball on their own 41 yard line. Ronnye Nelson picked up one yard on a first down carry before Kellen Lewis and Kody Case hooked up for a 29 yard gain through the air. Case’s second catch of the game gained four more yards before a holding penalty against the Bison moved the ball to the HU 16. Two plays later, Lewis found Gerald Ford for across the middle for a 16 yard gain and the score. The snap on the extra point was high, preserving a 10-6 Harding lead.

Lewis scored on a one-yard touchdown run on a fourth down play on the Blazers’ next drive to put VSU up 13-10. Lewis began the drive with an 11-yard completion to Cedric Jones to move the ball to midfield while a face mask on the play gave Valdosta State a first and 10 on Harding 35. Two plays later, a pass interference call gave the Blazers another first down before Lewis found Ford for nine more yards to the Bison 11. A pass and two runs moved the ball to the one, setting up Lewis’ seventh rushing score of the year.

After forcing another Harding punt, Valdosta State pushed its lead to 20-10 on its next drive. The teams traded holding penalties on the first two plays of the drive, with VSU’s penalty negating a 61-yard touchdown reception by R.J. Bastone. Facing a first and 20 situation, Lewis hooked up with Jackson Dean for a pair of receptions that netted 35 yards. Two plays later Bastone caught a pass down the right sideline and broke a tackle to score from 36-yards out with two minutes to go in the half.

Harding used a two-play drive to cut its deficit to just three points in the third quarter as Jeremy Holt took a pass from Ross and raced 68 yards for a touchdown, cutting the Bison deficit to 20-17.

Justin Kraemer kicked a 41-yard field goal for the Blazers with 11:04 to go in the game to close out the scoring. Valdosta State sealed the victory when it recovered a muffed punt by Ross on the Harding 17 with 1:49 to go in the game.

Lewis completed 28-of-51 passes in the game for 329 yards and two touchdowns. Ford caught a career-high seven passes for 65 yards while Jones tallied six catches for 69 yards. Larry Dean led the Blazer defense with 13 tackles.

Ross completed 12-of-22 passes for 155 yards while also carrying the ball 24 times for 151 yards. Rene Stephen tallied 11 tackles to lead the Bison defensively.

Valdosta State returns to action Thursday, October 22 when it faces North Alabama in Bazemore-Hyder Stadium. The game will be nationally broadcast on CBS College Sports and is scheduled for an 8:06 p.m. kickoff.