The Valdosta State Blazers showed why they are the best Division II has to offer on Saturday, beating Florida Tech 55-28 in a Gulf South Conference meeting at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium.
“Our guys fought hard, they played hard and I think it’s something to build off of,” said Panthers head coach Steve Englehart during his postgame interview with Jerry Durney on WFIT. “We just didn’t make enough plays offensively and didn’t get enough stops defensively against a team that deserves to be the number one team in the country.”
Valdosta State (7-0) scored on all six possessions in the first half including a 27-point second quarter, as the Blazers won their 22nd straight game.
Florida Tech (3-4, 1-3 GSC) did not score on their opening possession but then ran stride for stride with the Blazers, as the teams combined to score on seven straight possessions in the first half.
“Offensively, we made some plays we just needed the defense to get a stop — just a stop in the first half,” said Englehart. “If we would’ve gotten a stop or two in the first half we would’ve been right there going into halftime, and maybe then a little different game.”
Valdosta struck first on a 13-play, 80-yard drive and Florida Tech answered quickly, as quarterback Trent Chmelik found Brian Spurgeon for 24 yards, and backed that up with a dump-off pass to Daniel Richardson, who took it 51 yards for the score, and just like that, it was 7-7.
Valdosta State answered quickly, with Seth McGill scoring the first of his three touchdowns, giving the home team a 14-7 lead.
After Chmelik found Damien McGhee for a 41-yard hookup on the third play of the Panthers’ next drive, Mike Diliello took over under center and ran for 18 yards. He would then score from three yards out, tying the game at 14 with 33.9 seconds left in the first quarter.
With that touchdown, Diliello tied a Florida Tech school record with his 10th rushing touchdown of the season. He has also scored a touchdown in seven straight games which ties another school record.
Valdosta was not fazed, as they went 75 yards in nine plays. McGill took it in from one yard out, making it 21-14 early in the second quarter.
On the next possession, Diliello would rush for 10 yards on two carries and Corey Lane went for 17, with a facemask tacked on. That set up Chmelik’s next pass which resulted in a 33-yard touchdown to McGhee and tied the game at 21 with 10:37 to go in the half.
Valdosta quarterback Rogan Wells showed why he is a force to be reckoned with all night, and he quickly broke the tie, finding Brian Saunds for a 62-yard touchdown on third down. The two-point try failed, but the Blazers led 27-21.
Florida Tech would go three-and-out on their next drive, and Valdosta just kept coming. They would score on a 69-yard run by Wells and expand the lead to 34-21 with 7:11 to go. The Panthers would then turn it over on downs, and that would prove costly, as Valdosta would score again to make it 41-21 with 23 seconds left in the first half.
There would be no scoring in the third quarter, but Valdosta was knocking on the door and McGill would get his third of the night, just seven seconds into the fourth, making it 48-21.
Miles Kelly would score the Panthers only touchdown of the fourth quarter when he reeled in a 14-yard pass from Diliello to cut the lead to 20. Valdosta would recover the onside kick and return it to the Panthers 13, making their final touchdown of the night an easy one.
The Blazers totaled 642 yards of total offense, including 304 rushing yards. It is the second-highest rushing total ever allowed by the Panthers defense. On the other side, the Panthers had 417 total yards. On another night, against another team, probably good enough to win.
Chmelik finished 13-for-27 for 235 yards and two touchdowns. McGhee had two catches for 74 yards and Kelly had five for 70 yards. Corey Lane led the rushing attack with six carries for 58 yards. Diliello had 10 carries for 50 yards and a touchdown.
For more info: Florida Tech @ Valdosta State Box Score
The Panthers will now likely need to win out to make the playoffs. Three of their final four games are at home, beginning with next week’s Coastal Classic against West Florida. It will also be Homecoming, with the opening kickoff scheduled for 1:00 p.m.