UWA slays No. 1 Blazers 49-30

UWA vs Valdosta-6824LIVINGSTON — The University of West Alabama (5-1, 3-0) started shaky and ended strong en route to a 49-30 dispatching of No. 1 ranked Valdosta State (4-1, 2-1).

“You can’t deny what we did. We won again. We won pretty convincingly over a great program that is so well coached. Just a tremendous program,” UWA coach Will Hall said. “We’re in the driver’s seat right now in the Gulf South Conference moving forward and we’ve got another big one next week.”

Valdosta opened the game with a quick 7-0 lead when Willie Downs returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown.

West Alabama wasted little time answering as Malcolm Butler returned the ensuing kick past midfield to set up a six-play, 47-yard drive that culminated in a 23-yard touchdown pass from Gary Johnston to Kedrick Rhodes. Mark Grant’s point-after knotted it at 7-7.

UWA never got its next drive going, allowing Valdosta State to block a punt that trickled out of the back of the end zone for a 9-7 Valdosta lead with 6:42 left in the first.

The Tigers opened the second quarter by continuing an offensive march that took eight plays to go 85 yards and led to an eight-yard Rhodes touchdown run for a 14-9 UWA lead.

UWA vs Valdosta-7008Valdosta answered some six minutes later when Cayden Cochran hit Tyre Waiters to culminate a 54-yard, seven-play drive. Valdosta held on to the 16-14 lead until the half when West Alabama made some adjustments.

“I think it was some adjustments offensively. We wanted to take some shots and we wanted to get Seth Roberts the ball,” Hall said of the halftime alterations that sprung UWA to 390 yards in the second half alone. “But mostly it was our kids keeping the faith and just doing a little more on the faith and making it happen.”

The Tigers’ tinkering led to a 75-yard drive right out of the gate in the third quarter. The biggest play of the possession came when Kyle Caldwell rolled away from two apparent sacks, scrambled to his right and fired downfield to a wide-open Chad Toocheck for a 46-yard gain that flipped the field and changed the momentum.

“It was just a broken play. I got some pressure and I didn’t feel comfortable, so I was just going to step up and try to buy some time,” Caldwell said of the game. “They just left some gaps open, I made one guy miss and Chad broke away from his guy.”

“That got us going,” Hall said of the pivotal play. “I think that was a big play. To win big football games, you’ve got to have big time players and Kyle is becoming a big time player.”

The backyard pitch-and-catch set up a 15-yard Rhodes touchdown run that gave the Tigers a lead they would never lose.

“I feel like big time players make big time plays in big time games,” Rhodes said of a second half surge that saw him tally 89 yards after the break on a night in which he ended with 157 yards rushing on 21 carries.

UWA added to the cushion when Malik Lofton hauled in a 91-yard touchdown pass from Caldwell to put UWA up 28-16 with 9:21 left in the third.

UWA vs Valdosta-7187Valdosta State battled back with a 29-yard scoring pass from Cochran to Seantavious Jones.

The Tigers responded in kind on their next possession when Caldwell his Roberts for a 19-yard score to punctuate an eight-play, 76-yard drive and open the lead up to 35-23.

“They’re really good. You can trust them,” Caldwell said of a receiving trio that includes Toocheck, Roberts and Malik Lofton. “You can throw them a jump ball one on one and you know they’re going to beat their man.”

UWA grabbed a 19-point advantage with 12:06 to play in the game when Caldwell hooked up with Toocheck for a 10-yard score to leave the Tigers up 42-23.

Cochran would later draw Valdosta closer one more time with a 15-yard scoring run but UWA put the game away with 5:41 to play in the contest when Tyler O’Neal waltzed into the end zone after hauling in an 18-yard pass from Gary Johnston.

The Tigers ended the game with 558 yards of total offense, marking the fifth time this year they have eclipsed the 500 yard total.

“You can’t say enough about our offensive line. I think they played phenomenal,” Hall said.

UWA vs Valdosta-7426“Our offensive line just played lights out in the second half,” Caldwell noted. “I just give credit to them. They opened up holes and pass blocked very well.”

UWA is now scheduled to travel to face No. 22 Midwestern State in Wichita Falls, Texas Saturday, Oct. 19.

Even with the daunting task ahead, Hall said his team will take some time to enjoy the Thursday win.

“In I Peter it says that if you’re humble enough, God will lift you up in due time and I think these kids have been humble,” Hall said. “I think we’ve fought the good fight. I think we wake up every day and build this thing the right way with class and character and good players and we’re excited about where we are right now.”