FLORENCE, Ala. — Winston-Salem State’s shot at making history ended in disaster Saturday afternoon in the Division II Football Championship.
The Rams, seeking to become the first HBCU team to claim the Division II title, gave up a 96-yard return for a touchdown on the opening kickoff and turned the ball over six times in a 35-7 loss to Valdosta State.
“The story of the game was the turnovers,” WSSU coach Connell Maynor said. ”When you play a good team like Valdosta State and turn the ball over like that you’re going to come out on the losing end.”
The Rams (14-1) finished with 412 yards of offense to 316 for the Blazers (12-2). But Valdosta State’s defense intercepted three passes and the Rams lost three fumbles. The Blazers also recorded five sacks.
“We were able to get good pressure on their quarterback and that was a key,” Valdosta State coach David Dean said. “To hold an offense that averages 42 points per game to seven points was amazing.”
The Rams turned it over twice in the first half and also were 0-for-3 on fourth-down conversions. That, along with Matt Pierce’s 96-yard touchdown return of the opening kickoff, put the Blazers up 21-0 at halftime.
“We had a lot of dropped passes in addition to the turnovers,” said wide receiver Jemeze Massey, who finished with nine catches for 168 yards. “We moved the ball well, but when we got in the red zone we couldn’t put it in the box.”
Winston-Salem State got back in it early in the third quarter when Kameron Smith’s 29-yard touchdown pass to Massey cut the margin to 21-7.
After forcing a Valdosta State punt, the Rams quickly had a first-and-goal at the 4. But as Smith lunged for the end zone on a keeper, the ball came loose and Chris Hope recovered for the Blazers.
Valdosta State then drove 80 yards in 17 plays and Quin Roberson’s 17-yard scoring pass from Cayden Cochran pushed the lead to 28-7 with 13:08 remaining.
“That fumble was huge,” Maynor said. “We had scored and really had them on their heels. To get nothing when we had the momentum was very deflating.”
Smith threw for 269 yards and was intercepted twice in his final game.
“It’s hard to win with that many turnovers,” Smith said. “It’s very disappointing, but we played our hearts out.”