When the VSU Blazers take on the West Georgia Wolves at 2 p.m. at the Bazemore-Hyder Stadium Saturday, they will be playing for more than in-state bragging rights and the Peach State Basket.
They will also be playing for their first Gulf South Conference championship since 2004.
The 7-1 Blazers can clinch at least a share of the conference championship with a win on Saturday, after Delta State and West Alabama were handed their second conference losses of the season last week. This gives all teams in the conference, besides VSU, at least two losses.
“It is a huge game,” VSU Head Coach David Dean said. “Put playoff implications on top of all that and that is right where we want to be.”
A win on Saturday will also help keep VSU’s hopes of hosting a playoff game alive. The Blazers were ranked second, behind in-state foe Albany State, in the first regional rankings of the season when they came out Monday afternoon.
“You always want to be No.1,” Defensive tackle DeMario Jones said. “Albany State is deserving of it, they’re 9-0 and they have been beating up on people but we are just happy to be in the rankings.”
If VSU wins Saturday and next Thursday night against West Alabama, the Blazers will likely receive a first round bye when the playoffs begin on Nov. 20 and a home game on Nov. 27, which could mean wonders for the Blazers, who continue to suffer from injuries.
“(A bye) is huge,” Dean said. “It helped us in 2007 as we were able to regroup a little bit and kind of kick back and refocus. The first week of the playoff is always very difficult because you get the film late and you’re trying to figure out who your opponent is… So if we have an opportunity to sit back as a team and evaluate what is going to happen, that would be huge for us.”
Wide receiver Gerald Ford, who missed last weekend’s game with an MCL sprain, may make it back for this weekend’s game. Ford said on Tuesday that he felt 75 percent healthy and expects to be near 95 percent by Saturday.
“I was (in Arkansas) in spirit and it was tough to sit back and watch them grind out that victory,” Ford said about not being with his team last week. “I’ll be there this Saturday.”
Despite the confidence, Dean said he is unsure if Ford will dress. Dean said junior quarterback Austen Roberts will only be used in emergency because as he is still recovering from a heel injury.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Brett Whitmire will start after hurting his hand in last week’s 21-7 win over Arkansas Tech. Whitmire did continue to play after suffering the injury during the early minutes of the fourth quarter last weekend.
Redshirt Justin Roberts will serve as the backup, although VSU is looking to keep the redshirt on Roberts with two regular season games remaining.
Saturday’s battle with West Georgia will also serve as senior day for 25 Blazers.
“I haven’t really thought about it,” Jones said. “I know we were talking about it today in the training room. I probably won’t know what to think until I see my folks down on the field and everything.”
In the past years, a game against West Georgia looked easier than it does now. Despite posting low offensive statistics, the Wolves’ 3-5 record is their best season since 2005. West Georgia won seven games that season, which includes a 29-15 win over VSU.
“(West Georgia) is a lot better,” Dean said. “They’re a lot better of a football team. They have been in every game this year, virtually, except for probably Delta State.
“Every game you watch them their offense has gotten better through the season,” Dean continued. “They have kind of settled in on who they want to go with at quarterback and you can see their confidence level is definitely increasing.”
If VSU can manage to survive their final two regular season contest, they would need four more victories to earn their third national championship since 2004. It would be the longest single season winning streak for any player on the roster.