Ga. – West Alabama had never beaten Valdosta State at
Bazemore-Hyder Stadium. They have now.
The Tigers rushed for 332 yards, including 178 from running back Matt
Willis and 120 more from quarterback Gary
Johnston, on the way to a 39-28 Gulf South Conference victory
over the Blazers.
The UWA win snapped a 16-game losing streak on the Blazers home field. The
Tigers improved to 3-1 overall and 1-0 in the GSC. Valdosta State dropped to
2-2 and 0-1 in a battle of two top 25 NCAA Division II teams.
"We dominated the game, then we let them back in it and then we dominated it
again," head coach Will
Hall said. "I am so pleased about how we held on to the rope
and fought through adversity.
"We built our program on being physical and everybody who puts a ring on
their finger does it that way," Hall said. "Sometimes it's not pretty and
sometimes people don't like it, but they liked it tonight."
In addition to Willis and Johnston's heroics, strong safety Otha
Foster tied a school record with three interceptions and
Smith extend his consecutive field goal streak to 20 with two
field goals of 41 yards, plus a 38 and 27-yarder.
"You can't be a great player until you make great plays. Otha
Foster makes a lot of great plays and doesn't, for whatever
reason, get the recognition he deserves," Hall said. "I hope to God I have a
kicker like Ryne
Smith for the rest of my career. People just don't understand
how good he is."
Valdosta State drew first blood, driving 75 yards in 12 plays to take a 7-0
lead on its first possession of the game. A 4-yard pass from Cayden Cochran to
Gerald Ford capped the drive.
UWA answered later in the first period when wide receiver Malik
Lofton scored on a 13-yard reverse to top off a 66-yard,
The Tigers took a 10-7 lead early in the second quarter when Smith connected on
a 41-yard field goal. Smith then converted on a 38-yarder with 5:54 to play in
the first half to stretch UWA's lead to 13-7.
Caldwell and Stacey
Graham hooked up on a 34-yard touchdown pass with 49 seconds
left in the first half to give West Alabama a 20-7 lead at the intermission.
The TD reception was the first in Graham's career.
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