The Blazers (2-0) will welcome a familiar foe back into Bazemore-Hyder Stadium on Saturday when the Keiser Seahawks (1-1) of the National Athletic Intercollegiate Association (NAIA) make their second consecutive trip to Valdosta.
The Blazers and Seahawks faced off in last year’s season opener for Valdosta State University, with the Blazers earning a hard-fought 36-21 win.
Much like last year, head coach Tremaine Jackson is not overlooking the Skyhawks, who enter the game ranked No. 4 in the NAIA rankings.
“I expect them to come in here and think that they can win and try to win,” Jackson said. “They’re well-coached. They got a lot of great players. Some of them wouldn’t have been eligible in the NCAA, but that doesn’t mean they’re not great players.”
The Blazers are coming off a thrilling 21-16 win over Albany State in Albany. Though the passing game was grounded to a halt, the Blazers had success running the ball, rushing for 285 yards and three touchdowns.
Junior running back Eric Watts led the charge with 123 yards and a touchdown on just 11 carries. Sophomore running back Isaiah Flowers was close behind with 95 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries.
It is a welcome sign for the Blazers, who lost two all-time running backs Jamar Thompkins and Seth McGill to graduation.
Jackson believes the best is still yet to come as the team is still waiting on a couple of running backs to return from injury.
“We’re still missing two running backs that haven’t played, so we’re really excited that they’re coming back this week and that we get to see where we are at full strength,” Jackson said. “I was really pleased that the offensive line and our staff, they were able to formulate a plan to run the football, and we ran it well [against Albany State]. We had long runs on a different type of surface than what we’re used to playing on, so I expect us to get better and better running the football.”
For the Blazers, this also offers a chance for them to show how much better they’ve gotten since last year. The Blazers finished the 2022 campaign 5-6.
Still, Jackson isn’t going to judge the team’s overall improvement based on their performance against the Seahawks.
“I don’t know if playing them necessarily serves as a measuring stick,” Jackson said. “Every game serves as a measuring stick just because we want to see how much better we are, but we won’t know how much better we are until the end of the season. I told our guys, ‘You know when you’re real bad early. You don’t know if you’re any good until later on.’ … We’re just trying to make sure we execute with a great level of enthusiasm and see what happens for our football team.”
While it’s the Blazers’ second home game this season, in many ways it will feel like their first. Saturday’s game will be the first home game played under normal conditions.
Hurricane Idalia severely altered the Blazers’ home opener against Point University. In addition to only season ticket holders being permitted into the stadium, the game was also moved up to an afternoon kickoff due to Bazemore-Hyder Stadium being without power.
“[It’s going to be the] first time with the jumbotron on, hopefully, at home,” Jackson jokingly said. “Last time we played [at home], we basically played in the dark. Our kids that are new here will get a chance to get a home opener feels, even though it’s our second home game of the season. Any time we play in Bazemore, we’re always happy for that. Last week’s atmosphere was really tough, and we’re hoping that our fans provide the same type of atmosphere for us this weekend.”
Written by Austin Bruce, Co-Editor in Chief. Photo courtesy of Austin Bruce.