Championship Bound! No. 5 Blazers Down No. 9 Orediggers, 34-31 in National Semifinal Thriller
VALDOSTA, Ga. (WALB) - Behind a career-high 153 yards rushing by Valdosta State junior quarterback Ivory Durham and 318 yards rushing as a team, the No. 5 Blazers held off a furious fourth quarter rally by No. 9 Colorado School of Mines for a 34-31 victory in the NCAA Division II National Semifinal.
VSU qualified for its sixth NCAA National Championship in program history with the victory.
The Blazers (12-1) surpassed 300 yards rushing for the sixth time this season as VSU tallied 538 yards of total offense for the game, marking the ninth time this season of over 500 yards of offense and fifth-straight game. Durham went 12 of 23 passing for 220 yards and three scores, while the 153 yards on the ground surpassed his previous-best of 107 yards set against North Greenville (Nov. 6). Graduate student Lio’undre Gallimore finished with three catches for 101 yards and a score.
The Orediggers (12-2), who qualified for the National Semifinals for the first time in program history, finished with 448 yards of offense and 260 passing. Harlon Hill Award finalist Michael Zeman finished with 105 yards on 28 carries on the ground, while quarterback John Matocha had 17 rushes for 87 yards and two scores, while he went 22 of 40 passing for 260 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
Blazer head coach Gary Goff became the fourth VSU head coach to lead the team to the national championship as this marks the sixth trip to the title game in program history. VSU finished runner-up to Grand Valley State in 2002, while winning the titles in 2004, 2007, 2012 and most recently in 2018 in a 49-47 thriller over Ferris State. VSU becomes the first Division II school to have four different coaches reach the national championship game in Chris Hatcher, David Dean, Kerwin Bell and now Goff. Goff improved to 60-52 all-time as a college coach and 22-2 at VSU.
Defensively the Blazers stood tall repeatedly in the game as senior Nick Moss led the way with 11 tackles, while senior Cory Roberts had ten stops. Senior Ja’Davien Williams finished with eight tackles and 1.5 sacks for five yards, while senior Arrington Dulin had two sacks for seven yards. The Blazers accounted for four sacks for 14 yards and five tackles for loss for 21 yards in the game.
Following a three-and-out by the Orediggers to begin the game, VSU needed just one play with a 60-yard bomb from Durham to Gallimore for a 7-0 lead with 13:56 left in the first quarter. After another three-and-out by CSM, Durham scampered 31 yards for a first down and, on 4th and four, junior Jamar Thompkins gained five yards for a first down helped out by great blocking on the right side by Gene Upshaw Award finalist senior Ralph Singleton. VSU then settled for a 26-yard field goal from sophomore Estin Thiele with 8:42 left in the first quarter.
CSM moved down the field on its next possession and came away with a 28-yard field goal with 2:57 left in the first quarter on an 11 play, 64-yard drive using 5:45 of clock time. VSU then was unable to convert a fourth down on its own 33 as CSM took over with 51 seconds left in the first quarter. Early in the second quarter, CSM had a 3rd and 4 from the VSU 27, but the Blazers forced the fourth and two. CSM made the first down and had first and goal at the VSU 7. CSM went a staggering 4 of 5 on fourth down for the game. Matocha called his own number for a touchdown and a 10-10 score with 12:19 left in the half.
Durham used his feet again for a great run for 22 yards and then he hooked up junior Travon Roberts for a great running catch in stride down the near side for 37 yards and a touchdown giving VSU a 17-10 lead with 10:54 left in the first half. It was Roberts’ first touchdown reception of the season and Durham’s second long touchdown strike of the game as he was 5 of 9 for 129 yards and two scores to that point, while rushing three times for 53 yards. On 3rd and 7, Matocha used a busted play for a great pass to Tristan Smith for 42 yards to the VSU 30. CSM converted its second fourth down and Matocha scored his second rushing score of the game to tie it at 17 with 6:30 left in the half. Following a punt by the Blazers, the first of the game for VSU, CSM took over at its 29 with 3:45 left in the half.
The Blazer “D” stood tall and forced a punt by the Orediggers with 1:58 left in the half. VSU them moved to the CSM 31 for a 4th and 1 with 42 seconds left in the half. Durham went for 11 yards for a first down to the 20. Durham found senior Victor Talley on a slant for a 20-yard score and a 24-17 lead with 31 seconds left in the half. It was Durham’s third passing touchdown of the half. VSU went eight plays for 64 yards, using 1:13 for the drive as it looked to go for the two-for-one as it received the ball to start the second half.
For the half, VSU held a 284-197 lead in total yards as the Blazers were led by Durham with 91 yards on the ground on eight carries, while he was 8 of 15 passing for 156 yards and three scores. Zeman led the way on the ground for the Orediggers with 15 carries for 62 yards, while Matocha had eight carries for 19 yards and two scores and was 10 of 17 passing for 116 yards. Thiele belted a 42-yard field goal for a 27-17 lead with 12:08 left in the third quarter as VSU went seven plays for 50 yards, using 2:52 on the clock on the opening drive of the second half. Matocha and the Orediggers moved mythodically down field, but he fumbled the ball on the goal line giving VSU a touchback. On the ensuing VSU possession, Thompkins was stripped on a long run as CSM took over on its 33 following back-to-back fumbles by both teams. It was just the third lost fumble for the Blazers this season. VSU forced a three-and-out by the Orediggers much to the delight of the fans as VSU began its next drive at the VSU 32.
On a 3rd and ten, Durham hit Gallimore for 31 yards and a first down at the CSM 37. Durham called his own number for 38 yards and a score for a 34-17 score with 3:44 left in the third. Matocha threw a tipped ball and it was picked off by junior Jameon Gaskin at the CSM 47 for the second turnover of the game by the Orediggers. VSU turned the ball over on downs for the second time in the game with 1:12 left in the third. The Orediggers moved to the VSU 12 early in the fourth and had a 4th and 2 from the four.
Out of the shotgun and CSM tried the reverse to Mason Karp, but junior linebacker Jackson Bull came up with a huge tackle for loss back to the VSU 11 with CSM being denied once again in the second half in the red zone.
The rally for the Orediggers began as they scored a touchdown with a 17-yard strike to Max McLeod with 3:37 left for a 34-24 score on a 3rd and 15. On a great onside kick by Jacob Click that bounced and sailed high in the air, graduate student Brian Saunds and were on it as Bull came up with it at the VSU 47. CSM used its final timeout with 3:29 remaining.
VSU ran the clock down to 1:54 for a 4th and 9 from the VSU 48. VSU punted giving the Orediggers once last gasp with 1:40 left. On a 3rd and 10, Matocha tossed a 33-yard pass to Josh Johnston to the VSU six with 40 seconds remaining. Matocha pulled the Orediggers within 34-31 with a strike to Johnston with 34 seconds left and a 34-31 score. Click attempted the same onside kick and the ball did the same thing, but Saunds was there for the grab to secure the trip to the national championship.
The Blazers now will meet Ferris State as the national championship is set for Saturday, Dec. 18 at 9 p.m. ET in McKinney, Texas, at McKinney ISD Stadium. Fans can purchase tickets for the national championship, beginning this evening at 7 p.m. on vstateblazers.com.
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