|Valdosta State jumps up early, downs Winston-Salem State 35-7 in Div. II title game|
By Lut Williams
FLORENCE, AL – WInston-Salem State's hopes of becoming the first black college team to win the NCAA Div. II football championship and its dreams of a perfect season came to crushing end here Saturday afternoon.
Valdosta State (12-2) got off to a great start – returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown and leading 21-0 at the break – and played steadily throughout to come away with a 35-7 win before 7,527 fans in Saturday's national title game. It is the Blazers' third Div. II championship after taking titles in 2004 and 2007.
While the Blazers had no turnovers and rushed for 207 tough yards, the CIAA champion Rams (14-1) amassed 412 yards but turned the ball over six times including a key early third-quarter fumble by starting quarterback Kameron Smith at the VSU goal line after the Rams had cut the lead to 21-7.
Smith's fumble came after the Rams had gotten on the board at the 9:25 mark of the third period on a 29-yard pass from Smith to Jameze Massey. The Rams got the ball back at the VSU 45 after a 3-and-out and drove deep into VSU territory. Facing a 2nd-and-goal at the VSU 4, Smith kept the ball up the middle, was hit and fumbled into the end zone. VSU linebacker Chris Pope recovered for a touchback effectively ending WSSU's chances of getting back in the game.
"It was a slant call and the guy (the defensive back) defensed it perfectly," said WSSU head coach Connell Maynor. "Instead looking to the other side or throwing it away, Kam decided to run it. That's fine except you're got to hold onto the ball." "We had the momentum and had a chance to punch it in for that second touchdown and we didn't get it in," said Maynor. "That was a big turnover there and that was the ballgame." VSU then took the ball on a time-consuming 17-play, 80-yard drive that took 7 minutes, 30 seconds and carried into the fourth quarter. The Blazers scored on Quin Roberson's 17-yard pass from Chris Cochran to go up again by three touchdowns, 28-7 with 13:08 to play.
Massey would later mishandle a punt deep in his own territory setting up VSU at the WSSU 6. Cochran ran it in on third down for the final margin.
Maynor, with his team smarting for the loss, put the game and the season in perspective.
"We're playing in the biggest game in our division – the national championship game – but I told our guys 'keep your head up'. You have no reason to have your head down and crying because we lost that football game. There's 26 people in Connecticut that lost kids and parents and daughters and mothers. They have a reason to have their heads down and be crying. We don't. We're just playing a football game." "We want to compete. This is entertainment. That's real life. That's bigger than what we're doing right here.
"We had a great season winning back-to-back CIAAs, back-to-back regions, probably back-to-back black college national championships and a chance to win the D2 national championship. We had 60 minutes to prove that we were the better team and we didn't do it today. So, we got to go over there, shake their hands and congratulate them. There have been a lot of other people congratulating us at the end of football games. So now it's our turn to congratulate them." Freshman running back Cedric O'Neal led VSU with 143 yards on 24 carries. His tough running coupled with Cochran's (18 of 25, 109 yards) deft passing led to an over 11-minute difference in time of possession for the Blazers (35:54 to 24:06). Those exploits helped keep the Rams' high-scoring offense from getting in gear.
Massey was the Rams' chief weapon, hauling in nine passes for 168 yards and the team's only score. Running back Maurice Lewis was held to 65 yards on 16 carries. Smith finished 16 of 37 for 269 but threw two picks.
"Man, it sucks." said a disappointed Massey. "Nobody wants to lose a national championship. I fought hard, my team fought hard. We just didn't come up with the win. I think this (a national championship game appearance) will push our juniors and next year's team to come back and try and win it. I'm hoping and praying that it happens for them. HBCUs need it." The Blazers broke on top as Matt Pierce took the opening kickoff 96 yards up the middle for a touchdown. On its first possession, WSSU picked up one first down and punted. The Blazers came back to drive 63 yards in eight plays and scored on a 24-yard run by O'Neal. Before five minutes were gone in the game, the Blazers were up 14-0.
WSSU turned the ball over on its next two possessions. First, Lewis fumbled at his own 46 with VSU recovering. The Rams held however forcing a VSU punt. On its next possession. on 3rd-and-10 at the VSU 49, Smith's pass was picked off by VSU's Terry Davis. Again the WSSU defense held.
Early in the second quarter, VSU again went on a long drive, interspersing runs with flanker screens to go 72 yards in 13 plays. Cochran capped the drive with a 1-yard keeper. Daniel Anderson's third PAT gave VSU a 21-0 lead 5:40 before the end of the half.
WSSU would mount its most promising drive before the half, penetrating to the VSU 4 before being turned away on downs. Smith was sacked on 2nd down to push them back to the 12. Two passes into the end zone fell incomplete as the half ended.
|Last Updated ( Sat Dec 15, 2012 - 9:53pm )|