Written by Gabe Burns, Asst. Sports Editor
A season that will forever be entrenched in the school record books came to a close on Saturday, as the Valdosta State Blazers (9-3) were eliminated by the West Georgia Wolves, 27-20, in the second round of the playoffs.
VSU was unable to overcome UWG’s 292 rushing yards and six sacks while falling victim to the opportunistic Wolves for the second consecutive postseason.
“Today was not our day,” coach David Dean said in his postgame press conference. “West Georgia made a couple more plays than we did and that ended up being the difference in the ballgame.”
The Blazers stumbled out of the gate with a 10-0 deficit before Kenny Murphy returned an interception 79 yards to put VSU on the board. Another UWG score dropped the Blazers into a 17-7 hole going into the intermission.
As the team has been all year, the Blazers once again showed their impressive resiliency in the second half. Concluding a quarter that was highlighted by defense, E.J. Hilliard hit Will Johnson for a touchdown with a minute remaining in the third to pull VSU within seven. Hilliard finished as VSU’s leading passer and rusher on the day with 247 total yards.
The Wolves opened the fourth with a safety to increase their lead, but the once again fought back. Hilliard found Cedric O’Neal in the end zone to give VSU a seemingly-improbable lead, 20-19.
However, there is a reason the Wolves are 11-1. The UWG offense orchestrated a six play, 72 yard drive in just 2:20 to regain the lead with three minutes left. VSU was unable to answer, eventually turning the ball over on downs.
The Blazers’ 2015 campaign did not end as the team had hoped, but the successes of the season are impeccable. Among the records set this year were the longest touchdown in VSU history, O’Neal becoming the school’s all-time leading rusher and Dean establishing himself as the winningest coach in Blazers history.
VSU’s 9-3 mark continues its tradition of excellence and exceptional play in the Gulf South Conference. While the team did not finish the season on top, it did provide one of the most memorable seasons in school history. For that, this team will have a lasting mark on not just the school, but the entire community. The Blazers will return in 2016 seeking their fourth national championship.