Story and photo courtesy of Valdosta State Athletics
– Wes Holland caught a pass and scampered 16 yards for a touchdown with 57 seconds remaining to lead No. 13 North Alabama to a 30-23 come-from-behind victory over Valdosta State at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium Saturday afternoon.
Holland's touchdown catch capped off a 12-play, 79-yard drive by the Lions that covered 3:40 of the clock. The loss marked the third straight game in which Valdosta State surrendered a touchdown on double-digit play drive with less than a minute to play. The three Blazer losses came by a total of 13 points with a cumulative 1:44 to go in the three games.
North Alabama (8-2, 2-2) took over the ball on their own 21 yard line with 4:37 to play. Lee Chapple completed all six of his passes on the drive for 48 yards to move the ball while the Lions also benefited from a pass interference call for 15 more yards. Facing a second and 11 from the VSU 16, Chapple took the snap and hit Holland in the left flat. The running back raced untouched to the end zone for the score.
Valdosta State (6-4, 1-3) threatened on the ensuing drive as it got a 25-yard kickoff return by Griffin Roelle and moved to the UNA 27. On the ensuing pass to the end zone, Bryan Thomas went up and grabbed the ball one handed and got a foot in bounds with for an interception to end the threat and game.
The Blazers led 23-16 with just over eight minutes to play when the Lion special teams unit evened the game with a blocked punt. With VSU punting from its own 40, Tristan Purifoy broke through the line and blocked the attempt by Daniel Andersen. Robbie Burdine scooped up the ball and raced 22 yards to the end zone to even the contest at 23-23 with 8:08 remaining.
The blocked punt were the only points scored by the North Alabama special teams unit as, after Matt Pierce returned a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter, Janoris Jenkins blocked an extra point attempt by Andersen. Darnell Jackson recovered the block and returned it 88 yards for a two-point conversion that posted the Lions to a 9-6 advantage.
North Alabama opened the scoring with a four-yard pass from Chapple to Jason Smith with 2:30 remaining in the first quarter to set up the Pierce return. Cameo Holloway caught a 19-yard pass from Cayden Cochran with 3:41 to go in the second quarter and, after Chris Coffey scored on a 1-yard run with 46 seconds remaining in the second quarter, Valdosta State grabbed a 20-16 halftime lead as Griffin Roelle made a leaping 33-yard catch for a touchdown with three seconds remaining in the first half.
Andersen added a 26-yard field goal in the third quarter to put the Blazers in front 23-16.
Valdosta State tallied 350 yards of offense in the game, including 218 on the ground and 132 through the air. Cochran completed 10-of-20 passes for 102 yards and two scores before leaving with an injury midway through the fourth quarter while also rushing for 68 yards. Eugene Glenn carried the ball 18 times for 98 yards to lead the VSU rushing attack while senior Jeff Jones registered a career-high 11 tackles to lead the defense.
North Alabama recorded 381 yards in the game, including 247 through the air by Chapple, who completed 26-of-38 passes. Antwan Ivey rushed for 73 yards while Cameron Wade caught six passes for 62 yards. Marcus Dowtin tallied a team-high 10 tackles.