For the Delta State University Statesmen, however, winning on homecoming will be far from easy as they host the defending Division II National Champion Valdosta State University Blazers in Gulf South Conference action Saturday evening at Parker Field-McCool Stadium.
The Blazers are currently 5-2 with a 3-2 mark in the GSC, while Delta State is 5-2 with a 3-1 mark in the conference.
The Statesmen and Blazers are looking to remain alive in the postseason hunt. Valdosta State was hurt tremendously on Saturday when it lost to the North Alabama Lions 57-7 in Valdosta, Ga. After losing to West Alabama 48-14 a few weeks ago, the Statesmen have gotten back on the winning track by winning their last two games. Delta State’s most recent victory was a 38-17 win over Shorter University eight days ago in GSC action at Rome, Ga. In the current GSC standings, Delta State and North Alabama are tied for second, while Valdosta State is in fourth.
This game is one of the most intense rivalries in Division II Football as DSU holds an 18-13-1 all-time series lead. The series has spawned some of the best games in recent memory as 17 of the 32 contests have been decided by eight points or less. There was also a 28-28 tie in 1988. Delta State lost last year’s contest against VSU 59-41 at Valdosta, Ga.
“A lot of times when Delta State and Valdosta State have played, it’s meant a lot through out the conference,” Delta State head football coach Todd Cooley said. “This year is no exception. Both of us are fighting for postseason play right now and that just adds to it. At the end of the day, I think it’s such a heated rivalry because it’s two really good football programs. Delta State has won at the highest level and Valdosta has won at the highest level.”
According to Cooley, this game and every game from here on out will be big in determining if his team goes to the playoffs.
“We’ve got to keep winning games,” Cooley said. “We’ve played that way the last couple of weeks, and we’ll continue to play that way. We always talk to our guys about trying to play our best game, but we’ve got a lot of things riding on this game. We’ve got playoffs riding on it and one our goals is to go undefeated at home. We’re 2-0 and we want to keep that string alive. It’s going to be tough, but that’s the way you want it. On November 2nd, you’re playing big time ball games and that’s what you want.”
This game has the potential of being a terrific battle between two good offenses. The Statesmen are averaging 34.3 points and racking 470.6 yards per game, while the Blazers are scoring 34 points and recording 431.7 yards a contest.
Delta State’s freshman quarterback Tyler Sullivan has come on strong, as the Statesmen are 2-0 in his two starts. In those two games, Sullivan has completed 55-of-77 passes for 636 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions. In four games total, Sullivan is 60-of-85 passing for 707 yards with six touchdowns and no picks.
Receiving wise, junior Ricky Hunt (47 rec., 440 yards, 2 TDs) and sophomores Casey Osborne (46 rec., 559 yards, 7 TDs) and Patrick Bethley (31 rec., 452 yards, 4 TDs) have been three great go-to guys for the Statesmen.
Freshman place kicker Vince Sciorrotta has continued to do a terrific job for DSU as he is 10-of-16 on field goal attempts and a perfect 30-of-30 on PAT kicks. He is second in the conference in total points with 60.
For Valdosta State, quarterback Cayden Cochran, who has completed 124-of-218 passes for 1,369 yards with 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, has spearheaded the offense. The Blazers’ ground game is anchored by running backs Cedric O’Neal (88 carries, 654 yards, 7 TDs) and Austin Scott (67 carries, 501 yards, 5 TDs), while seniors Seantavius Jones (33 rec., 460 yards, 6 TDs) and Regginald Lewis (26 rec., 370 yards, 2 TDs) have been the team’s leading receivers.
The Blazers also have some big offensive linemen as they have 10 linemen on the roster that weigh over 300 pounds.
“Their quarterback is a very good football player,” Cooley said. “They’ve got some receivers that can go and the running back is good. Their offensive line might be the biggest offensive line that I’ve ever seen. They move people around up front.”
Defensively, DSU has given up 32.1 points and 381.3 yards per game, while Valdosta State has given up 24.9 points and 389.9 yards a game.
For DSU on defense, junior linebacker Rory Island (52 tackles, 5 tackles-for-loss, 2 sacks), sophomore defensive back Richard Nash (51 tackles, 2 tackles-for-loss, 1 Int.), junior linebacker Artavius Morgan (36 tackles, 9 tackles-for-loss, 3 sacks), junior defensive lineman Adrian Dinkins (23 tackles, 8.5 tackles-for-loss, 3 sacks) and junior defensive lineman Diego Lubin (21 tackles, 7 tackles-for-loss, 5 sacks) have led the way for the Statesmen.
For VSU on defense, senior linebacker Chris Pope (63 tackles, 5.5 tackles-for-loss, 1 sacks), senior linebacker Jeremy Grable (54 tackles, 3 tackles-for-loss, 1 Int.), junior linebacker Justin Williams (52 tackles, 7 tackles-for-loss) and senior defensive tackle Virgil Lawrence (35 tackles, 6.5 tackles-for-loss, 3.5 sacks) have spearheaded the Blazers.
“They’re very, very sound defensively,” Cooley said about the Blazers. “They’ve got eight senior starters — a bunch of guys that have played a lot of football over there. They’ve been in big games. They tackle really well.”
Kickoff for Saturday is set for 4 p.m.