Written by Gabe Burns, Staff Writer
Valdosta State head coach David Dean said his team will lean on their defense and tough run game in the 2015 season. That philosophy held true in the Blazers 21-13 road win over Albany State on Saturday.
The Blazers (1-0) started fast with preseason all-conference running back, Cedric O’Neal, scoring a rushing touchdown 4:05 into the first quarter. O’Neal finished with 12 carries for 56 yards while moving into third place on the school’s all-time rushing yards list. The Blazers did not relinquish their lead after that.
VSU struck again in the second quarter for a 14-0 lead. Quarterback E.J Hilliard, who went 20 of 36 passing for 206 yards on the day, threw his first touchdown pass as a Blazer to Dallas Baldner, who then showed impressive burst and athleticism in running 28 yards to the end zone.
Albany State, who went 7-3 a year ago, struggled to finish drives throughout the contest. The Golden Rams (0-1) finally broke through in the second half, but the Blazers quickly answered with an Austin Scott touchdown run to go up 21-6 with 14:14 left in the game.
Albany State star running back, Jarvis Small, contained by VSU for much of the day, scored to put the Golden Rams within reach. The Blazers defense held on and the team was able to take a knee to complete the victory.
“I give our kids a tremendous amount of credit,” Dean said on his postgame highlight show. “They played hard. We were put in some adverse situations, (but) we held strong and we made the plays when we had to make them.”
The win was an encouraging one for the Blazers. The team outplayed the Golden Rams in almost all facets of the game in the first half. The defense held Albany State to only two red zone possessions total.
Looking ahead, the Blazers take to the road again for a neutral-site game with Winston-Salem State in Powder Springs, GA on Saturday at 6:00 P.M. The Rams are 0-1 following their 17-7 loss this past week against UNC Pembroke. The Blazers won last year’s matchup 22-17.
The Rams are attempting to make the CIAA championship game for the fourth straight season, but have lost 35 players from last year’s team. Despite the lost talent, the Rams are still CIAA favorites and a quality opponent for VSU.
Dean emphasized that the team must cut down on penalties after having five in the first half last week. The Rams have an entirely new starting 11 on defense, so getting O’Neal going early will be a huge part of VSU’s game plan.
Given Winston-Salem State’s youth status, VSU’s experience gives them an upper hand. Cutting down on the penalties, getting O’Neal touches and the defense performing as usual should get VSU their second win before their first home game.
Prediction: Valdosta State: 31, Winston-Salem State: 13