Black Beats Red in Offensively Charged Spring Game

Black Beats Red in Offensively Charged Spring Game
Black Beats Red in Offensively Charged Spring Game
Posted at 12:15 AM, Mar 04, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-04 00:15:00-05

VALDOSTA, Ga. - For as much as Valdosta State values a competitive atmosphere, it's fitting that the result of Saturday's spring game was decided in the final seconds.

Khari Richards forced a incompletion for the Black Team on a fourth-down shot into the end zone, and Joe Fortson caught his third touchdown pass of the afternoon a play later to put an exclamation point on the 44-31 victory against the Red Team at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium.

"We talked about the pre-snap penalties yesterday, and we still had some of those we've got to continue to clean up," said offensive line coach, and Black Team liaison, Jeremy Darveau. "But from an execution standpoint, the offense put up 44 points and the defense had a huge stop right here.

"You couldn't have asked for a better ending to a game than we had right there."

Offensive fireworks were on display in the Blazers' spring game, especially in a second quarter that saw both sides combine to score seven touchdowns and a field goal following a scoreless first.

With graduate assistants taking over the bulk of play-calling duties and coaches jawing back and forth, the spring game was a fun experience for the team and the fans craving football in early March.

"Coach (Danny) Verpaele and I had some good repertoire back and forth," Darveau said with a laugh. "We spend a lot of time coaching against each other, and we're pretty good buddies, so it's fun to go against each other like that, especially on the same sideline.

"There was a little juice on the sideline."

Valdosta State unveiled coordinated celebrations following most touchdowns, including a game of duck-duck-goose and a mock relay race.

Then, following the Black Team's final defensive stop, quarterback Roland Rivers launched one final pass deep down the middle of the field to Fortson, who was met in the end zone by the rest of his teammates as they celebrated the win.

"It's just exciting to get out here and see all of the fans and just see the love and support," Fortson said. "Last year, we had a down year, and to see people come back out here and still have faith with us, and just continue to ride with us, it's just nice.

"We just want to put on a show for them."

VSU finished 5-4 last season and out of the playoffs for the first time since 2013, but the team is dwelling on the past.

The focus around the Blazers has been on simply getting better, and by the final snap in the spring game, head coach Kerwin Bell felt his team is better now than when camp began.

Aside from a handful of penalties on the offensive line in the first half, VSU's spring game was relatively clean.

"Other than that, I thought we played good, sound football," Bell said. "Not a lot of penalties, not a lot of mistakes, not a lot of negative plays. That was good to see. We were really sound in almost every phase of the game."

For the Black Team, the emphasis was on playing simple, fast and smart, and it did so on both sides of the ball.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Max Hughes scored the first points of the game on a play-action bootleg early in the second quarter, and on the Black Team's next possession, sophomore Roland Rivers showed how far he's come along since undergoing shoulder surgery a year ago by finding Fortson on a fade in the corner of the end zone.

On the ensuing Red Team possession, former receiver Stephen Denmark once again flashed the talent that has the Blazers excited about his potential at cornerback: showing off his ball skills in tracking down an interception on a deep pass and his athleticism in proceeding to return the ball more than 70 yards for the touchdown.

But the Red Team, led by team liaison, and defensive coordinator, Verpaele, weren't going down without a fight.

Senior quarterback Adam Robles completed touchdown passes to receivers Brian Saunds, Bryndan McCoy and Jamarcus Tysonin the second quarter to tie the game at 21-21 late in the first half.

Rivers avoided a sack and found running back Quahlin Patterson on a touchdown pass with 42 seconds remaining in the second quarter, and the Red Team responded by driving into field goal range for Robert Cheek to add the 52nd and final points of an exciting quarter.

Although it was ultimately an offensively-charged day Saturday, Bell is excited about the potential for Valdosta State's defense come fall.

Aside from Denmark, the Blazers also got strong play from a deep and talented defensive line, and defensive back Ravarius Rivers carried his strong play in camp over into the spring game. Kenneth Johnson and Jairus Jones also each came up with interceptions.

"We handcuffed the defense just a little bit, because when we spilt the squad, we sort of restrict them in what they can do defensively," Bell said. "We're going to be really good on defense."

The scoring slowed a bit in the second half as VSU went to 12-minute quarters and a running clock after playing full 15-minute quarters in the first half.

Fortson and Rivers connected on their second touchdown between the two to push the Black Team's lead to 35-24 in the third quarter before last year's starter Rogan Wells delivered McCoy his second touchdown reception of the game to close the score to 35-31.

Andrew Gray's field goal and Fortson's celebratory touchdown catch were the only scores of the final period as the Black Team took the day, but the real winner was Valdosta State as a whole after seeing each of its top four quarterbacks lead at least one touchdown drive.

"I was thinking, 'Man, we've got four guys,'" Bell said. "It's hard, at this level, to have four guys you can go and play, and I think, win with.

"Max, we feel has really come on this spring. He's probably been the most improved. Roland is coming back from that injury. Adam is Adam, he's always going to be able to throw the ball down the field with the best of them, but I think Rogan has had the best spring overall. He's been the most complete. He's been the most consistent. But all four of them, we feel very comfortable with."