Story and photo courtesy of Valdosta State Athletics
VALDOSTA, Ga. – Valdosta State tallied 525 yards of total offense to defeat Carson-Newman 48-26 in the Quarterfinals of the NCAA Division II Football Playoffs at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium Saturday afternoon.
With the victory, VSU improves to 10-2 on the season and advances to next week's semifinal game against Minnesota State-Mankato. Carson-Newman ends its season at 9-3.
Valdosta State dominated the first quarter, as it scored 14 points and compiled 163 yards of offense, before Carson-Newman came back to control the second.
The Eagles got the scoring started on the first drive of the game when they marched 65 yards on 13 plays. The Blazer defense stiffened when the ball got inside its 10 to force a 27-yard field goal by Curt Duncan that gave C-N a 3-0 lead.
Valdosta State answered on its ensuing drive as used 10 plays to move 90 yards for a touchdown. Cayden Cochran completed all six of his passes on the drive for 46 yards and also ran for 12 yards while Cedric O'Neal ran for 37 yards on one carry. Cochran finished off the drive with a 1-yard plunge for the touchdown that put VSU in front 7-3.
After forcing a turnover on downs on the Carson-Newman 46 yard line on the next Eagle drive, the Blazers needed just one play to push their advantage to 11 points as O'Neal burst through the line for a 46-yard run.
The two teams traded punts on the game's next two drive before Carson-Newman scored its first touchdown of the game. After taking over on its own three, C-N put together a 15-play drive to methodically move the ball down the field. Only two of the 15 plays came through the air as the Eagles ran for 80 of the 97 yards. Andy Hibbett closed out the drive with a 1-yard run that closed CNU to within 14-10.
A pair of short fields helped Carson-Newman take the lead as it scored on each of its next two possessions. A short punt and a personal foul against Valdosta State gave the Eagles on the VSU 32 on its next drive, from which Brandon Baker scored on a run, while an interception that was returned to the VSU 22 led to a 33-yard Duncan field goal.
Valdosta State moved the ball to the C-N 1 yard on the final drive of the first half but was stopped on a fourth-down plunge as Carson-Newman led 20-14 at the half.
The Eagles again got the first score in the second half as Duncan booted a 42-yard field goal, only to have Valdosta State quickly cut its deficit to 23-21 as it needed just four plays to advance down the field. Cochran completed all three of his passes on the drive for 73 yards, the final 37 of which came on a pass down the C-N sideline to Seantavious Jones for the touchdown.
Carson-Newman answered with Duncan's fourth field goal of the game, this one a 22-yard attempt, on the ensuing drive, but the points would prove to be the final of the game for the Eagles as the VSU defense limited C-N to just 58 yards the remainder of the game.
While the Carson-Newman offense was limited the rest of the game, Valdosta State kept up the pressure as it scored touchdowns on each of its next four possessions. Chris Anderson put the Blazers in front for good with a 20-yard reception before O'Neal added his second of three rushing touchdowns with a three-yard run early in the fourth quarter.
Cochran threw his third touchdown of the game with 8:08 to go when he found Quin Roberson alone in the back left corner of the end zone while O'Neal finished off the scoring with a 16-yard run with 6:29 to play.
Valdosta State's four rushing touchdowns in the game gave VSU 34 on the year, breaking the old school record of 32 set during the program's 2004 national championship title season. O'Neal, a true freshman, has tallied 13 of the scores, tied for the third-most in school history and just two away from the single season mark. The Dublin, Ga. native has also rushed for 1,055 yards on the season, making him just the eight VSU running back to top the 1,000-yard barrier and the first since Michael Terry ran for 1,107 in 2007.
Valdosta State finished the game with 279 yards rushing and 246 passing. O'Neal added 194 yards to go along with his three touchdowns while Cochran completed 23-of-31 passes for 246 yards and ran for 34 more yards. Anderson, in his first career start, caught a team-high six passes for 43 yards.
Chris Pope led the Valdosta State defense with 21 tackles, tied for the second-highest single game total in program history.
Carson-Newman finished with 392 yards of offense, including 362 rushing. Baker ran for 155 yards while Tyron Douglas added 124. Oliver Davis led the C-N defense with seven stops, all solo.
The site for next week's game between Valdosta State and Minnesota State-Mankato will be announced later Saturday evening.