Nov. 4—VALDOSTA — The Valdosta State Blazers (4-5, 2-4 Gulf South Conference) will try to start a new streak when they host the rival No. 8 West Florida Argonauts (7-1, 5-1 GSC) Saturday evening.
Last week, the Blazers trailed 28-14 at halftime, but outscored the North Greenville Crusaders 44-9 in the second half to win 58-37 on the road.
The win snapped the team's first four-game losing streak since 1990.
"We talked about being an in spite of team instead of a woe is me, here we go again type of team," VSU head coach Tremaine Jackson said Wednesday. "Things went bad — we were down 28-14 at halftime. Things were looking kind of like they had been looking and our kids decided. They said in the locker room, in spite of being down 28-14, we're going to win the game. When a team decides to go win the game, they're going to win the game. That's been my experience my whole career. A team that won't be beat can't be beat. We played extremely hard. We matched and exceeded their intensity and I thought we played with a lot of enthusiasm.
"We finally played our brand of football for 30 minutes. Not for 60 minutes, but the last 30 minutes of that game is who we want to be — offensively and defensively. Unfortunately, it's taken us nine weeks to be that but we saw us and who we want to be in the last 30 minutes of that game and that's what I was really proud of."
The Argos come into this week's game riding a five-game winning streak after dispatching West Alabama 36-24 on Senior Day.
In that game, the Argos put up 386 yards of total offense — 293 coming from their run game.
For the season, the Argos have been fairly balanced with an average of 256.6 rushing yards and 207.7 passing yards per game.
That balance was nowhere to be found against West Alabama as Argos quarterback Peewee Jarrett completed just 8 of 23 passes for 93 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
Defensively, the Argos allow 23 points per game on the season.
Though West Alabama outgained West Florida, it was the explosive plays from the Argos' offense that proved to be the difference.
The Argos hit on touchdowns of 28 and 48 yards in the game. They complimented their run game with stellar field goal kicking as Griffin Cerra went 5 for 5 on field goals and 3 for 3 on extra points for 18 points in the game.
"The energy and enthusiasm is what we look to carry over," Jackson said. "When you look back at the last 30 minutes of our last game, we celebrated with one another. We hadn't really done a lot of that. We were still wrong, but we were able to out-enthuse and out-energy that team. We look for that. That's what defensive football is these days, in my opinion. You've got to have something extra than the scheme and that's got to be the energy and enthusiasm.
"(West Florida) has a really good offense. They spread you out to run the ball. They want to run the football. I think this team kind of confuse some people on what they really want to do. They spread you out to run it and they run the football extremely well and we've got to be able to slow that run game down."
Against North Greenville, the Blazers exploded for 534 total yards — throwing for 308 and rushing for 226 in the win.
Senior Jamar Thompkins finished with 21 carries for 109 yards and a touchdown, while senior Seth McGill had 19 carries for 96 yards and a score. Senior quarterback Ivory Durham went 17 of 27 passing for 258 yards and four touchdowns, while wide out Victor Talley had six catches for 109 yards and two touchdowns.
After moving into second all-time in career rushing yards against West Georgia Oct. 22, Thompkins now sits 126 yards from tying former Blazer Cedric O'Neal's school record of 4,115 career rushing yards set from 2012-15.
"Any time you can run the ball effectively, you plan on having a good night," Jackson said, "I thought the shots that we took, we converted. Victor Talley had a really big night for us offensively. we had a double pass in there that really sparked us. Our offensive coaches, our offensive players, they executed the game plan. They stuck with it and when you look back at it, it didn't work out in the first quarter. It didn't work out midway through the second quarter, but they stuck with their plan and we believe in our kids. They started making the plays they needed to make."
Defensively, the Blazers put together their best performance of the season with four sacks, nine tackles for loss, an interception and 99 yards rushing allowed.
The defense also forced the Crusaders into 5 of 16 on third down conversions in the game — an area the team has struggled in much of the season.
"Man, that's a little bit more like what I'm used to," Jackson said of his defense. "It was (our best defensive game of the season), and it was simply because our players fully bought in to what we were doing. I'm not saying they weren't all the way bought in before, but we've played a lot of different people. We've got a lot of people that have played here before. We had some Black Swarm. We had some 212 defense. We finally were who we are now and hopefully that continues. To hold a team under 100 yards rushing, we hadn't done that all season. We can look back to that as a good moment as we turn the tide on defense here."
Following Saturday's contest, the Blazers host the Shorter Hawks in the GSC Playoff Preview to close the season Nov. 12.
With a chance to rain on the rival Argos' parade, Jackson feels his team has nothing to lose, which makes it dangerous in this kind of game.
"The focus is being the very best that we can be and improving every week and finishing the best that we can," Jackson said. "This is a rivalry game for us. I know some people think we're not playing for very much — we are. We've got a chance to go 1-1 in rivalries. We weren't successful in our first one. It's a really good football and we've got a chance to prove that we can play and beat a really good football team. We've got a chance to finish the right way, which helps us in recruiting. It helps us as a program moving forward.
"We don't have anything to lose. We have everything to gain. We've practiced like that. I've been really, really impressed with the way our guys have come to work in practice. I'm really hoping we can finish the right way for them."
Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Shane Thomas is the sports editor at the Valdosta Daily Times.