VALDOSTA, GA. (vstateblazers.com) — Behind a strong defensive effort, four touchdown passes from junior quarterback Ivory Durham and three receiving touchdowns from graduate student Brian Saunds, the No. 5 Valdosta State football team posted a 41-17 victory over No. 10 Bowie State Saturday afternoon at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium. With the victory, VSU improved to 11-1 on the year and now will await its semifinal opponent, location and time for next Saturday. Check back with vstateblazers.com to keep up to date when the semifinal opponent will be announced later this weekend.
VSU improved to 28-13 all-time in the NCAA tournament and qualified for the semifinals for the sixth time in program history. The Blazers improved to 8-0 at home this season and won their 19th home game in the playoffs all-time (19-7). It was the fourth victory over a ranked team this season and 69th all-time. The Blazers now are 13-2 all-time in the month of December. VSU improved to 2-0 all-time against Bowie State as it beat the Bulldogs in the second round of the playoffs in Valdosta in 2018, 66-16.
The Blazers dominated the game on a beautiful 70-degree Saturday afternoon from the start and held a 533-221 advantage in total offense, including 185-72 in rushing yards and 348-149 in passing yards. BSU entered the game as the No. 5-ranked total defense in the country, allowing just 234.4 yards per game, while it was fifth nationally in passing yards allowed at 139.2 per game and fifth in scoring defense at 12.7 points allowed per game.
Durham finished with a career-high four touchdown passes in the game, the three to Saunds and a great diving catch for a score from graduate student Lio'undre Gallimore. Durham finished 22 of 32 passing for 34 yards, four scores and two interceptions. He also led the team in rushing with 12 carries for 61 yards. Saunds caught ten balls for 146 yards and a career-high three touchdown receptions. Gallimore finished with three catches for 99 yards and a score. Saunds moved into third all-time in career receiving yards with 3,016 surpassing Randy Fisher's mark of 2,892 (1986-89). Saunds' three touchdown catches gave him 28 for his career also passing Fisher's mark of 26 for sixth all-time in school history. The game also saw both Saunds and Gallimore each go over 1,000 yards receiving this season.
Not only did the offense play well, but also the defense stood tall repeatedly, as it allowed just 221 yards of offense for the second-fewest this season and sacked the Bulldogs three times for 21 yards along with five tackles for loss for 24 yards. VSU had four pass breakups and seven hurries of BSU quarterback Ja'rome Johnson. Blazer junior linebacker Jameon Gaskin had a team-high nine tackles and assisted on a sack in the game, while senior linebacker Nick Moss had seven tackles.
For the Bulldogs, who finish their season with a 12-2 record as they reached the national quarterfinals for the first time in program history, saw Johnson finish 14 of 28 passing for 149 yards and two touchdowns, while Harlon Hill Trophy finalist Calil Wilkins was held to just 15 carries for 62 yards by the Blazer "D". Wilkins entered the game averaging 96.9 yards per game for 23rd nationally. Isaiah Rainey-Nix got free on a couple of long passes as he had three catches for 50 yards and a score. D2CCA Super Region Two Defensive Player of the Year Jonathan Ross finished with five tackles, one sack for 14 yards and two tackles for loss for 16 yards. Raymond Boone had two interceptions for 29 yards in the game.
Two big sacks and a bad snap on a punt by the Bulldogs set the Blazers up at the BSU 27 for their first drive of the game. On a third and nine from the BSU 26, Durham hooked up with Saunds for a 26-yard strike and an early 7-0 lead with 12:20 left in the first quarter. BSU's second drive ended in a punt, but the Bulldogs changed field position with a great 63-yard punt to the VSU 5.
From there, VSU engineered a nine-play, 95-yard drive in 4:10 capped with a 39-yard diving catch in the end zone by Gallimore for a 14-0 lead with 6:19 left in the first quarter. The Blazers converted two third downs on the drive, one by Durham with his feet, and one on a pass to senior Victor Talley. It was Gallimore's team-leading 14th touchdown reception of the season.
VSU saw its first fourth down of the game – a fourth and 1 from its 49 with 3:33 left in the first quarter and a timeout. Sophomore Estin Thiele pinned the Bulldogs to their own five with a great 47-yard punt. Bowie State went three-and-out on its ensuing possession. VSU took over for the second time in the game in Bowie State territory at the BSU 39 with 2:01 left in the quarter. Durham had a tipped passed picked off by Boone at the BSU 20 late in the first quarter.
The Bulldogs move to the VSU 18 for a third down, but two big hurries forced a fourth down for a field a 35-yard goal attempt by Alen Omarhodzic for a 14-3 score with 13:35 left in the first half. BSU was 0 for 5 on third down to that point. The second touchdown reception by Saunds gave VSU a 21-3 lead with 10:53 left in the half.
BSU converted its first third down of the game (1/6) for a 23-yard pass to Rainey-Nix to the 50. An 11-yard scamper from Wilkins put BSU at the Blazer 31 for its second-straight third down conversion. BSU moved to the VSU nine and, on a third and six, Rainey-Nix caught a touchdown pass for a 21-10 score with 5:47 left in the half. VSU held the Bulldogs to just 4 of 13 on third down and 0 of 1 on fourth down for the game.
Saunds then caught his third touchdown of the half for a 23-yard strike from Durham with 2:41 remaining and a 28-10 VSU lead. The Blazer "D" stood tall, once again, on third and one from the BSU 34, forcing a punt. Following the punt, a big run by Durham and a great catch from Saunds set the Blazers up at the BSU 41 with just over a minute left in the half. Ross came off the end and sacked Durham for just the second sack allowed on VSU all season pushing the Blazers back to their side of the field for a third and 26. Thiele punted as time expired in the half.
VSU held a 261-135 lead in total offense in the half as the Blazers had 22 rushes for 84 yards and Durham was 11 of 15 for 177 yards and four touchdown passes for the half. Saunds had seven catches for 94 yards and three scores, while Gallimore had one catch for 39 yards and a score. Durham had 10 carries for 45 yards in the half.
The Bulldogs had 17 rushes for 47 yards in the half and 88 passing yards as Wilkins had 13 rushes for 58 yards, while Johnson went 8 of 16 passing for 88 yards and one touchdown.
VSU drove to the Bowie 36 on the opening drive of the third quarter and went for it on fourth and one from there as junior Seth McGill went up the middle for four yards and a first down. BSU's defense then forced a fourth and six from the 30 as VSU decided to go for it, once again, Durham hit Talley for 12 yards and a first down to the 13. Thiele connected on a 25-yard field goal for a 31-10 lead with eight minutes left in the third quarter as it marked the Blazers' longest drive of the game to that point.
Following a punt from the Bulldogs, Durham found Gallimore for a 43-yard catch and run to the Bowie State 20 and Gallimore's second big grab of the day. McGill then rattled off a 15-yard run to the BSU 5 and called his own number for a score and a 38-10 lead with 4:15 left in the quarter. It also marked McGill's 14th rushing touchdown of the season, pulling him within three rushing touchdowns of the school-record of 17 for a season set by Cedric O'Neal in 2017.
Blazer junior linebacker Jackson Bull came up with the second sack of the game by the Blazers and also a pass deflection on a fourth and 22 from the VSU 35 early in the fourth quarter for a turnover on downs. Thiele kicked his second field goal of the game for a 41-10 score with 6:44 left. Johnson engineered an eight play, 60-yard drive for a 41-17 score with 4:20 left in the game for the final margin.