Delta State returns to D-II playoffs
Special to The Star
CLEVELAND The Delta State University football team (10-1, 8-1 GSC) hosts Valdosta State (10-1, 8-1 GSC) in the first round of the NCAA Division II playoffs this Saturday.
The two teams share the Gulf South Conference championship with West Georgia. West Georgia (10-1, 8-1 GSC) travels to Catawba (10-1), with the winner playing the winner of the Delta State/Valdosta game next Saturday.
The contest marks the Statesmen's return to the playoffs for the first time since 1998 when Fort Valley State defeated them 21-14.
Delta State leads the series with Valdosta 11-7-1, and has defeated the Blazers in the last five meetings including a 45-35 win in Valdosta on October 7.
In rushing for 160 yards and passing for 112 in last week 47-10 victory over Arkansas-Monticello, Bright became the first Mississippi quarterback since Reggie Collier in 1981 to surpass 1,000 yards rushing and passing.
The last time the Statesmen faced Valdosta, they posted a 45-35 victory, outscoring the Blazers 22-7 in the second and third quarters.
Bright leads the Statesmen in total offense with 1,066 passing and 1,060 rushing. Rico McDonald has rushed for 1,186 yards and 12 touchdowns. Offensively, this marks the first time that Delta State has had a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in the same season.
Meridian High's Jason Franklin leads Delta State with 33 receptions for 819 yards and 10 touchdowns. James Grubbs has caught 22 passes for 267 yards and a pair of scores.
Defensively, Rory Bell has been a tackling machine, leading the Statesmen with 102 stops, three interceptions, and a pair of fumble recoveries.
Andre Brown and Ezell Powell have six sacks apiece. Demetrius Patterson has grabbed a team leading four interceptions.
Bonner leads Valdosta State's "Hatch Attack" with 3,907 yards passing for 55 touchdowns and only six interceptions. Aaron Jenkins is the Blazers leading ground gainer, netting 416 yards on 58 carries with five touchdowns.
C.J. Lofton leads the Blazers with 70 receptions for 823 yards and 12 touchdowns. Carlos Johnson has caught 60 passes for 954 yards and eight scores.
Marlin Adams leads the Blazers pass rush with four sacks and one forced fumble. Ced Dickerson and Marquis Turner have each picked off a team leading three passes. Mike Fowler has recorded a team leading 91 tackles.
Last week, the Statesmen hosted 24th ranked Arkansas-Monticello. At first, the game appeared to be a potential shootout, as both offenses produced touchdown dives on their first possessions.
However, the Statesmen capitalized on four Boll-Weevil turnovers and registered eight sacks, and held Monticello to 80 yards rushing to shut down the prolific Boll-Weevil offense.
Bright led an offensive explosion for the Statesmen, connecting on touchdown bombs of 54 and 67 yards to Franklin, and scampered 74 yards for another score.
Deforest Hart carried the ball 15 times for 76 yards and a touchdown. Franklin hauled in two receptions for 121 yards and two touchdowns.
DSU defensive end Jerrod Beckett turned in a strong performance with five tackles, forced a fumble, and quarterback hurry. Erik Thomas and Clayton Mosely each recorded two sacks. Gary Bell and Shelton Belton each forced and recovered a Boll-Weevil fumble.
Last Saturday, Bonner rallied his team from a 28-24 third-quarter deficit at fourth ranked West Georgia. Bonner tossed three second half touchdowns as Valdosta knocked the Braves from the ranks of unbeaten and claimed a share of the Gulf South Conference championship.
West Georgia led 10-0 after the first quarter, and seemed to have the momentum when Chris Elam's five-yard touchdown run gave them a 21-14 lead in the second quarter.
The tide turned on the ensuing kick. Valdosta return man Aaron Jenkins fielded the kick off in the end zone, and exploded for a 100-yard return to knot the score at 21-21.
Valdosta added a 33-yard field goal from Guzzardo to take a 24-21 lead into the locker room.
West Georgia retook the lead early in the second half, 28-24, but the Blazers poured it on with three Bonner touchdown passes of seven, 52, and 23 yards to take a commanding 45-28 lead.