Written by Juston Lewis, Staff Writer
VSU Football is hosting UNC-Pembroke in the first round of the playoffs next Saturday, but they’ve been in playoff mode for weeks.
The Blazers ended the regular season on a two game winning streak after an impressive win against West Alabama, which knocked them out of the playoffs and a shutout victory against Shorter, which was their 11th loss of the season.
Head coach Kerwin Bell said the Blazers have been in playoff mode for a long time.
“We believe in a process … we’re going to stick to it, and I think the last two weeks we’ve started to get in that mode,” Bell said. “We’re going to continue that and keep them in that mode where we are really focused and these last two weeks we’ve really gotten in that mode of playoff football.”
UNC-Pembroke is riding a five-game winning streak. The Braves will be coming to Valdosta with only one loss on their record. A blemish that the playoff committee saw fit to drop them to a five seed. The loss came against Tuskeegee University, which was ranked fifth in the country at the time.
UNC-Pembroke has a high-powered offense driven by junior quarterback Patrick O’Brien. O’Brien has passed for 2485 yards and 20 touchdowns on the season. They also have a weapon on special teams in senior place kicker, Matt Davis. Davis has converted 26-29 field goals this season with six of them being of 50 or more yards.
The Braves offense averages 35.6 points per game, while VSU’s defense only allows 24.4 points per game.
The Black Swarm has 64 tackles for loss, 23 sacks and 22 interceptions to go along with giving up less than 25 points per game on the season. Turnovers could give VSU an edge entering into the playoffs. They are tied for ninth in the country in turnovers gained with 29. They are tied for third in interceptions with 22.
“When you go into the playoffs and you know you got a championship style defense, it gives you a chance against anybody,” Bell said.
VSU’s offense should not be overshadowed by the defense’s performance. They have the seventh most passing yards in the nation with 320 yards per game. The emergence of freshman running back Cedric Hollingshed has provided the Blazers with a change of pace ground game and passing threat out of the backfield.
VSU has five players that have been honored by the Gulf South Conference. Senior defensive back, Donatello Brown and redshirt freshman guard Brandon Kemp received first team all-conference honors for the year. Senior defensive back, Kenny Moore and senior defensive lineman, Jamar Simpkins were named to the second team all-conference. Hollingshed was also named the conference freshman of the year.
In the last ten years, VSU has been to the playoffs six times including two championships in 2007 and 2012 and a second round exit last year. In the last matchup with UNC-Pembroke, which was in 2014, the Blazers won 36-7. VSU will be hoping for a similar result on Saturday.
The game against the Braves will be at 1 p.m. at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 19.