A home losing streak lasting 17 years was snapped Saturday after the Wolves of West Georgia defeated the Valdosta State Blazers 49-28 at home in University Stadium. The win brought the peach basket back to Carrollton, and gave the Wolves an overall record of 6-0 with two conference wins.
I was very fortunate to receive an opportunity to sit in the press box alongside play-by-play commentator Don Russell and color commentator Rick Rhodes assisting them in broadcasting the game for Gulf South Television and ESPN3. I relayed stats, down and distance, scoring drives, penalties, and other aspects of the game to technicians in the truck to make graphics for the people watching the game on television. I want to personally thank the Sports information director at UWG, Matt Cooke, my sports communication professor, Andrew Will, the men and women of Gulf South Television and ESPN3, and everyone else who made this opportunity possible. It was an incredible experience for me and I gained valuable insight in the professional world of sports broadcasting.
Quarterback Dallas Dickey and running back LaMarcus Franks led the charge on offense for the Wolves, and helped 2nd-ranked West Georgia get its first ever win at University Stadium against 21st-ranked Valdosta State.
Dickey ended the game 16-for-23 with 237 yards and three touchdowns. He completed passes to nine different receivers throughout the contest. Franks exploded for 172 yards on 17 carries and even threw for a 28-yard touchdown, which earned him GSC offensive player of the week. Not to be overshadowed by these two monstrous performances is senior Shaq Hall’s performance. Saturday, he became the 14th receiver in school history to surpass 1,000 career yards. He also led his team with 5 receptions for 66 yards and one score on the day. Four other players also had receiving touchdowns for the Wolves.
West Georgia received the opening kickoff and was on the board in no time after a nine play, 75-yard drive. Will Garrett finished off the drive with a rushing touchdown from five yards out, giving him three on the year. This gave UWG a 7-0 lead with 10:03 left in the first.
Just 1 minute and 49 seconds late VSU scored a touchdown of their own as Cedric O’Neal ran it in from 15 yards out.
The next UWG drive was the LaMarcus Franks show as he exploded for several runs of 10 yards or more. The drive was finished off again by quarterback Will Garrett. This time, Garret used his arm to find fullback David Dupaty for a 14-yard touchdown. Then, he used it again to find Alex Armah for the two-point conversion. With 4:31 left in the 1st quarter, the Wolves were up 15-7.
Both offenses stalled on their next drives, and then O’Neal found the endzone for the second time on the day. After a successful PAT, the blazers were down 15-14.
Dallas Dickey then committed an uncharacteristic turnover as his pass was tipped and intercepted by the VSU defense. Valdosta capitalized on the excellent field position and E.J Hilliard found Dallas Baldner for an 8-yard score, giving the Blazers their first and only lead of the day (21-15).
UWG took no time in answering as Dickey found Shaq Hall over the middle for the score from 14 yards out. The drive only lasted 3 minutes and 29 seconds over a span of 7 plays and for a distance of 83 yards. Hunter Heck converted the PAT, and West Georgia regained the lead 22-21 with 4:05 to go in the half.
West Georgia’s defense then forced a turnover of their own, as Senior Alex Armah recovered a fumble forced by Dylan Donahue that gave the Wolves the ball on their own 41-yard line.
The offense took the field with 57 seconds left, and drove down to the VSU 24-yard line. Hunter Heck then converted on a 41-yard field goal as time expired, giving UWG the 25-21 lead at half time.
Anyone watching this game could tell that this was a very heated rivalry with a lot on the line for both schools. The fact that there were five unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in the first half made it pretty obvious as well. This should come as no surprise to fans of both schools given their recent history. Last year, VSU handled UWG 40-6 in the regular season, but UWG bounced back and eliminated VSU from the Division II playoffs later in the year.
After the half ended, West Georgia’s defense came up big again as Gabe Freeman intercepted an E.J Hilliard pass. This gave the offense the ball at their own 46-yard line.
It took Dickey and the offense just three plays to score as LaMarcus Franks found Devontae Jackson on a halfback pass for a 28-yard score. This gave UWG, at the time, their biggest lead of the day, 32-21.
West Georgia then began to assert its dominance over Valdosta State, as another E.J. Hilliard pass was intercepted, this time by junior cornerback Laronji Vason. Dallas Dickey would only need one play to put more points on the board as he found Qa Walker for a 46-yard touchdown immediately following the Vason interception. West Georgia then found themselves up 39-21 with 10:08 left in the third.
After a Valdosta State punt, the Wolves added another score. JaNardreon Jones caught a 25-yard Dallas Dickey pass, putting UWG up by a score of 46-21. This score made it three in the third quarter alone for West Georgia, and there was still 7:25 left to go.
VSU would finally find the endzone in the start of the fourth as backup QB Roland Rivers hit Chris Anderson for a 10-yard score. This made the score 46-28.
Later in the quarter, the scoring for the day was finished off by UWG’s outstanding field goal kicker, Hunter Heck. He made his second field goal of the day, this time a 23 yarder. This made Heck 2-for-2 on the day, and 8-for-8 on the year. Heck has proven time and time again that he is a valuable asset to this West Georgia team.
The West Georgia defense was huge in this game, intercepting the ball twice and recovering one fumble. They also only allowed 305 total yards on the day, 145 passing and 160 rushing. Alex Armah, Gabe Freeman, and Marion Chapman all had 8 tackles on the day. Junior Dylan Donahue also proved to be a vital part of the phenomenal UWG defense, racking up 2.5 sacks on the day.
Coach Will Hall continues to bring the college football atmosphere to the people of Carrollton every week, and this week was no different. 6,473 people watched Saturday’s game with at least 2,000 watching from outside the stadium. Tailgating started very early and many RVs were lined up in the parking lots. Businesses were set up with tables and there were promotions, giveaways, contests, live music, and many other events for football fans to enjoy prior to kickoff. The gentlemen calling the game that I sat beside kept commenting on how Coach Hall has really changed the atmosphere at UWG, and how fun it has been for them to watch it grow. They were shocked to see how many people were in attendance and how many activities in the city revolved around the game.
To say Coach Hall was fired up during Saturday’s game would be a clear understatement. Numerous times during the game one could find him running up and down the sideline, jumping up and down, waving his arms, and firing up the crowd. His passion and excitement continued into the post-game press conference as he spoke very highly of his staff and players, and even the opposing team as well.
UWG will travel to Cleveland, Mississippi this Saturday as they will take on the Delta State Statesmen in a crucial GSC matchup. The game is scheduled to be the NCAA Division II game of the week and will be aired on ESPN3 and America Sports Network. This will be no easy task for the Wolves, as Delta State is also ranked nationally, sitting at the number 8 spot. Luckily for Wolves fans, the Statesmen will be without their star quarterback Tyler Sullivan, due to a broken collarbone he suffered a couple weeks ago. Sullivan was averaging 302.4 passing yards a game. Also, the Wolves seem to have Delta State’s number as of late, defeating them twice last season.
West Georgia will get a visit from the number 17 ranked North Alabama Lions next Saturday, and that will end their tough 4-game stretch vs ranked opponents.
Look for West Georgia’s defense to take advantage of the backup Delta State quarterback this Saturday and force a couple turnovers. I expect the Wolves to come out strong and continue their undefeated season.
Make sure you head on over to my personal blog @ Bwrightsports.com for video highlights of Saturday’s game!