Story and photo courtesy of Valdosta State Athletics
MANKATO, Minn. – Valdosta State compiled 498 yards of offense as the Blazers defeated Minnesota State-Mankato at Blakeslee Stadium in the NCAA Division II National Semifinals Saturday afternoon.
With the win, the Blazers improved to 11-2 and advances to next week's NCAA Division II National Championship game at Braly Stadium in Florence, Ala. Minnesota State-Mankato ends its season at 13-1.
The 498 yards by VSU marked the most given up by MSU on the season, which entered the game as the No. 3 defense in the nation in total yardage as it allowed just 267.7 per game. The game comes just two weeks after Valdosta State tallied 525 yards in the second round of the Division II playoffs against West Alabama, which was the fifth-ranked defense in the nation at the time.
The game marked Valdosta State's fourth trip to the national semifinals and the fourth time that the Blazers have advanced to the national championship game.
Minnesota State-Mankato dominated the first quarter of play as it held the ball for a little over 11 out of the first 15 minutes of play. Valdosta State ran just seven plays during the frame and managed just 36 yards. Meanwhile, the Mavericks ran 22 plays for 118 yards while taking a 3-0 lead. Sam Brockshus scored the only points of the quarter as, on the second MSU possession of the game, he capped off a 14-play drive with a 29-yard field goal.
Minnesota State-Mankato pushed its advantage to 10-0 less than three minutes into the second quarter when Adam Thielen caught a 17-yard pass, before Valdosta State got back in the game with a pair of long drives.
After falling behind 10-0, Valdosta State marched 82 yards on 10 plays to score on an eight-yard catch by Gerald Ford. The big play on the drive came when Cayden Cochran found Seantavious Jones for a 39-yard gain to the MSU 12. Two plays later, Cochran, who completed four-of-six passes on the drive, found Ford across the middle to cut the VSU deficit to 10-7 with 8:20 to go in the second quarter.
VSU forced a punt, which was downed on the VSU three, on the next Maverick drive and took over on marched 97 yards to take the lead. Austin Scott opened the drive with a 28-yard run while three plays later Cochran and Ford hooked up for a 22-yard gain. A Regginald Lewis 25-yard catch moved the ball to the MSU 12 before Cochran found Seantavious Jones in the right corner of the end zone to put VSU ahead 14-7.
After having a ball go off the fingers of a leaping Ford in the end zone to end the first half, Valdosta State pushed its advantage to 21-10 on the first drive of the second half. The Blazers took the opening drive 75 yards on 13 plays. Lewis got the Blazers into scoring position when he caught a screen pass, used his hand to keep his balance while spinning out of a tackle and ran 34 yards to the MSU 5. On the next play, Cochran ran a quarterback keeper up the middle for the score.
MSU marched 51 yards for a 39-yard Brockshus field goal on its ensuing drive, only to have the Blazers respond with Cochran's second rushing touchdown on the next drive to put VSU in front 28-13 with 14:40 to play in the game.
The Mavericks quickly answered the score as Andy Pfeiffer scored on a one-yard run just over three minutes later. However, the extra point was missed, as was a field goal on the ensuing MSU drive to give the Blazers a 28-19 lead with just over three minutes to play.
The Blazers closed out the scoring with 24 seconds remaining when Austin Scott took a hand-off around right end and raced 31 yards for a touchdown.
Scott ran for 158 yards, leaving him eight yards shy of 1,000 on the year. Cochran added 40 yards rushing while completing 16-of-28 passes for 278 yards. Jones caught four passes for 122 yards while Ford had eight catches for 76 yards, giving him 1,020 yards on the season.
Jeremy Grable led the Valdosta State defense with 12 tackles, including 10 in the first half, while Chris Pope had 10.
Minnesota State-Mankato registered 436 yards of offense, much of which came from quarterback Jon Wolf, who ran for 127 yards while completing 11-of-24 passes for 195 more. The Mavericks tallied 241 rushing yards and 195 through the air.
Tickets for next weekend's national championship game will be on sale in the Valdosta State Athletic Offices in The Complex beginning at 8:30 a.m. Monday morning. All tickets to the event are for reserved seating and cost $25. Valdosta State has an allotment of 1,000 tickets behind its bench while additional tickets on the VSU side of the field can be purchased at www.d2championship.com or at www.ncaa.com.