Valdosta State, West Georgia battle for semifinal berth

Garrison Ushery looks back on West Georgia’s first trip to Valdosta State with disdain.

Will Hall has led West Georgia to the Division II quarterfinals in his first season as coach. (UWG athletics)

Will Hall has led West Georgia to the Division II quarterfinals in his first season as coach. (UWG athletics)

Even though the Wolves learned plenty about themselves that day, he’d prefer not to think about the 40-6 loss to the Blazers on Oct. 11.

“That was ugly,” said Ushery, a senior right guard from South Cobb. “But we never stopped playing. We never quit. That showed us a lot about this team.”

West Georgia (11-2) has lost once since, but that victory sparked Valdosta State (10-2) on an eight-game winning streak heading into Saturday’s rematch (noon) in the Division II quarterfinals.

Both the Wolves and Blazers upset higher seeded teams last week to advance to an improbable quarterfinal game featuring the two lowest seeded teams in that corner of the bracket.

Sixth-seeded West Georgia defeated second-seeded Delta State for the second time this season, to extend its winning streak to five games, and No. 5 seed Valdosta State knocked off previously undefeated and top seed Lenoir-Rhyne.

The Wolves were 5-0 when they played Valdosta State two months ago, but the Blazers had two weeks to prepare after falling to 2-2 at the end of September.

They held West Georgia to a season-low 261 yards and two field goals while rolling up 586 yards.

“Having a week off before we played them last time was a big benefit,” Valdosta State coach David Dean said. “We worked on some things that helped us, but we don’t have that flexibility this time. West Georgia is executing better now. They were in a situation last time where they were in a learning curve, but they’re playing faster and with more confidence and they’re reading things quicker. They’re playing confident football.”

Ushery is part of an offensive line that is one of the best in the conference, if not Division II.

Ushery and center Quincy Awa-Dubose were selected to the Gulf South Conference first team, and brother Orion Awa-Dubose, a left guard, was second-team all-conference. Left tackle Harley Vaughan (Dawson County and right tackle Somto Okeke (Sequoyah) also start on a line that helped the Wolves lead the conference with 241.7 rushing yards a game.

“They’re huge. They’re the biggest offensive line that we face all year long,” Dean said. “They’re athletic and move around in space really well. We used some quickness to help disrupt them last time and that will be a big key for us, because they’re bigger than us. Hopefully we can move around a little bit and cause some confusion.”

West Georgia running back Seth Hinsley (Norcross) has rushed for 1,303 yards and 13 touchdowns, but Valdosta State counters with the duo of Austin Scott (Hardaway), who has 900 yards, and Cedric O’Neal (Dublin), who has 810 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Quarterback Jake Medlock also has 582 yards and seven scores, but he injured his right (throwin

g) shoulder last week. He practiced this week, but Kaleb Nobles (Fitzgerald) would start if Medlock can’t play.

“They have two great backs,” West Georgia coach Will Hall said. “And Medlock is a Division II Tim Tebow. He’s run on everybody and he’s hard to tackle.”

Linebacker Kenny Murphy (Tattnall County), who leads Valdosta State with 85 tackles, has helped preserve the past two victories with interceptions – one with less than 3 minutes left against North Alabama and one in the end zone to save a touchdown against Lenoir-Rhyne.

“It’s tough to play any good team twice in the same season, but they’re a very good team,” he said. “We beat them pretty good the first time, but they’re not same team we faced. We’ll have to be more prepared this time if we want to come out with the victory.”

The Blazers have won three national titles in the past 10 years, but this is West Georgia’s first trip to the playoffs since 2000 and first time the Wolves have advanced this far since joining Division II.

West Georgia won the Division III national title in 1982.

“Valdosta State is a Division II power,” Hall said. “We hope to be able to crash the party, and we hope it happens sooner than later. I hope it happens this year.”

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