VALDOSTA, GA. (vstateblazers.com) — The No. 2 Valdosta State football team scored 21 points in the second quarter, after trailing 7-0 early, for a 31-21 victory over North Greenville Saturday afternoon for Homecoming and Senior Day. The Blazers improved to 9-0 overall and 6-0 in Gulf South Conference play, while North Greenville fell to 4-6 and 1-5 in GSC play.
VSU earned at least a share of its third-straight Gulf South Conference title with the victory and can win the outright title next week with a win at No. 4 West Florida in the regular season finale for both teams. Prior to the game Saturday, VSU honored 17 Blazer seniors playing in their final regular season game at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium. The 2021 Senior Class includes; Jacob Baker, Chris Barrett, Corey Brown, Antwan Dixon, Arrington Dulin, Steve Durosier, Lio'undre Gallimore, Mondrell Jefferson, Christian Matthew, Nick Moss, Gideon Owuso, Cory Roberts, Brian Saunds, Ralph Singleton, Kwan Stallworth, Elijah Watson and Jadavien Williams.
The Blazers finished the game with 530 yards of offense for the fifth game this season of over 500 yards of offense. VSU had 215 yards on the ground, led by 107 yards on 11 carries from junior quarterback Ivory Durham, while he went a career-high 27 of 40 passing for 315 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. It was Durham's second game of over 300 yards passing this season. Saunds had a career-high 15 catches for 220 yards, marking the second time he has gained over 200 yards receiving as he had a school-record 246 yards on ten catches against Florida Tech also on Homecoming in 2019. Saunds tied his career-high with 10 catches in the first half alone Saturday for 123 yards and a touchdown. Junior Seth McGill had 15 carries for 44 yards and three rushing touchdowns.
With the win on Saturday, the Blazers won for the 34th on Homecoming in 39 seasons, while winning their 23rd-straight Gulf South Conference regular season victory and the 30th-straight regular season victory overall since 2017. Third-year head coach Gary Goff improved to 19-1 at VSU.
NGU came out ready to play and took the early lead as the Crusaders finished with 258 total yards, including 185 on the ground and 73 through the air. Cale Swift led the team with 21 carries for 113 yards and a score on the ground, while quarterback Kaelan Riley had 29 yards on the ground on seven carries and two touchdowns. He went 4 of 10 for 38 yards and one touchdown and one interception.
Defensively, Blazer junior Jameon Gaskin paced the team with 11 total tackles, while Jefferson added eight stops. VSU recorded two sacks in the game and had five tackles for loss. Roberts, the reigning GSC Defensive Player of the Week, had his second interception in as many games and seventh for his career. For NGU, Deandre Mack had nine tackles for the Crusaders and Kameron Burton recorded two interceptions in the game.
After stalling on the first drive of the game for both teams, NGU's Stephen Antley came up with a block on the Blazer punt as NGU took over at the VSU 40. Staying completely on the ground, the Crusaders used a six play, 40-yard drive and Riley scored for a 7-0 lead with 6:10 left in the first quarter. It marked just the second time VSU had trailed all season. Prior to that, VSU had trailed for just 8:30 for the entire season in the 42-17 victory at West Alabama (Oct. 16). NGU held the lead for 8:44 Saturday
Following a three-and-out by the Blazers, NGU took over and moved down the field, courtesy of a pass interference penalty and a face mask on VSU. Matthew came up with the first blocked kick of the season for the Blazers on a 38-yard field goal attempt from Colin Karhu, keeping the deficit at 7-0. It was just Karhu's second missed field goal of the season as he was 9 of 10 to that point.
After the block, VSU took over at it's 30 and moved to the NGU 29 highlighted by a good catch from Saunds and 14-yard run from junior Jamar Thompkins. On 3rd and nine from the NGU 28, Durham saw an opening and scampered 24 yards to the NGU 4. McGill scored on the ground to tie the game at 7-7 with 12:26 left in the second quarter.
VSU took over after a North Greenville punt and used a huge run from Durham for 26 yards down to the NGU 22. Durham then threaded the needle to junior Victor Talley for a good first down to the NGU nine. From there, McGill scored his second touchdown for a 14-7 lead with 4:31 left in the half.
Riley completed his first pass of the game on a 3rd and nine inside VSU territory and then hit Logan Byrd out of the backfield for a 21-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 14 with 1:13 left in the first half.
VSU used a good kickoff return between Gallimore and Thompkins to the VSU 35. The last time the duo shared a kick return, Gallimore took it to the house on the opening kickoff for 90 yards against Delta State (Oct. 9). Saunds had a pair of good catch and runs to the NGU 31 with 35 seconds left in the half. A run by Durham moved the ball to the NGU 24 and a timeout with 28 seconds left. Saunds made a great route for a 24-yard touchdown catch with a defender on him for a 21-14 lead. VSU went five plays in just 42 seconds on the drive for 65 yards as the Blazers won the toss to begin the game and deferred to the second half.
For the half, VSU held a 253-157 lead in total offense, but the Crusaders had 27 rushes for 120 yards, while VSU had 16 rushes for 109 yards. Durham was 13 of 18 passing for 144 yards and a score, while he had five rushes for 66 yards. Saunds had ten catches, tying his career-high in receptions, for 123 yards and one touchdown. NGU was led by Swift with 11 rushes for 65 yards, while Riley had five rushes for 11 yards and a touchdown. He was 2 for 4 for 37 yards and the touchdown to Byrd.
Following a great catch on 3rd and 7 from Talley and Saunds made his career-record 11th catch of the game for 28 yards down to the NGU 32. Durham then ran for 16 more to the NGU 15. A great leaping catch from Gallimore followed by McGill on an option from Durham for his third rushing score of the game and a 28-14 lead with 11:43 left in the third. It was the second, three rushing touchdown game of McGill's career as he scored three times in the Homecoming victory in 2019 against Florida Tech.
VSU forced NGU to punt on the ensuing possession as VSU took over at its 29. Durham's pass was picked off at the NGU 21 by Burton as Durham thought NGU had jumped offsides and floated a ball down the far side. VSU's defense stood tall and forced a three-and-out.
NGU intercepted Durham for the second time by Burton at the VSU 39. A personal foul on VSU moved the ball to the VSU 17. The Blazers returned the favor with a great diving interception from Roberts in the end zone thwarting a key opportunity for the Crusaders to cut into the deficit.
Two more great catch and runs by Saunds, as he went over 200 yards receiving, set the Blazers up at the NGU 10 with eight minutes left in the game. It was Saunds' 14th catch of the day. VSU settled for a 22-yard field goal from sophomore Estin Thiele for a 31-14 lead with 7:03 left.
A halfback toss from Swift set the Crusaders up at the VSU 40 with a little trickeration and then he went 21 yards, going over 100 yards for the game into the red zone. Riley called his own number, once again, for an 18-yard run and a 31-21 score with 5:22 left.
VSU converted one third down on the ensuing drive and then had a 3rd and 3 from its 46 when the Crusaders began using their timeouts and the first one with 2:43 left. Durham called his own number for a first down as he went over 100 yards on the ground for the game. VSU was then able to run out the clock for the victory.
Next Saturday's game likely will be the second top five matchup in three weeks for the Blazers with a scheduled kickoff of 5 p.m. ET in Pensacola, Fla.