Written by Gabe Burns, Staff Writer
The Valdosta State Blazers had a memorable home opener that will forever be entrenched in the school’s record books. The Blazers’ record-setting day resulted in a 56-22 win over Cumberland at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium on Saturday.
In the 2nd quarter of play, quarterback EJ Hilliard rolled out to the right and hit D’Amonte Ridley for what would become a 92-yard touchdown pass, the longest in school history.
“I honestly didn’t see anything,” said Hilliard. “I put it up, I got hit, I heard screaming from that (Cumberland’s) side and thought ‘man, that’s an interception.’ The next thing I know, I heard he caught it, then broke a tackle and scored. So it’s really cool to have a place in history.”
The touchdown came a couple of minutes before halftime to give VSU a 30-7 lead. But it was an all-around big day for the Blazers’ offense.
As has been the theme of the first two games, the offense took a quarter to get rolling, with the teams ending the first quarter in a 7-7 stalemate. But once the offense found its rhythm, it fired on all cylinders for their most efficient performance of the 2015 season.
Hilliard finished 17 of 22 for 250 yards and four touchdowns while playing only the first half. Running back Cedric O’Neal grinded out 95 yards and two touchdowns on 19 rushing attempts. Receiver Greg Dent caught two touchdowns, while Donovan Bolden, Dallas Baldner and Ridley each had one as well.
“I think that we’re getting better offensively,” said VSU head coach David Dean immediately following the game. “We added a lot of new pieces to the puzzle early on, and I think they’re all starting to conform together and gel. I was really pleased with EJ (Hilliard). He made some good decisions and throws. I thought our offensive line protected well. And our wide receiver play and running back play, those guys stepped up and made a lot of nice plays tonight. Our big thing is just to continue to improve, and hopefully we can continue to do that because from game one to game two to game three, we have improved each week.”
The Blazers (3-0) took a 36-9 lead into the half after Hilliard hit Dent for a 22-yard score with seven seconds remaining before intermission. The second half allowed Dean to evaluate some of his younger players, including redshirt freshman quarterback Roland Rivers, who showed off his arm strength on a 52-yard touchdown throw to Bolden late in the 3rd quarter.
The defense performed as expected. They frequently made plays in the opposing backfield, tallying five sacks and preventing the Bulldogs from sustaining any long-drives.
On the afternoon, the Blazers put up 517 yards of offense while holding the Bulldogs to only 221. Statically, Valdosta State out-played Cumberland in every part of the game.
The 4,255 fans in attendance provided a great atmosphere, and the team hopes the crowd brings a similar energy to next Saturday’s conference opener against the undefeated North Alabama Lions at 2 p.m.