#2 Winston-Salem State committed a season high 6 turnovers, as Valdosta State rumbled past the Rams 35-7 in the NCAA DII National Championship game in Florence, Alabama on Saturday.
The Rams outgained the Blazers 412 to 316 in total yards, but it was the WSSU miscues that proved to be the difference in the title game.
“Anytime you turn the ball over four or five times it’s a slim chance that you can win the game,” Maynor said. “And when you play a great team like Valdosta you are going to come out on a losing end.”
In almost a mirror image of the Rams semi-final game, WSSU’s special teams unit put the home team behind the eight ball immediately, as Valdosta’s Matt Pierce took the opening kickoff back 96 yards for a touchdown.
Winston-Salem State would move the ball down field, but a fourth down pass to Juhuann Butler, glanced off his fingertips as he has hit hard as the ball arrived, and thus turnover the ball over to the Blazers.
Valdosta State would gain control and march 63 yards in eight plays, and eventually found the endzone again, as Cedric O’Neal’s 24 yard run put the Rams down 14-0, less than five minutes into the game.
As the Rams would finally settle down, WSSU found the going tough, as although they were able to move the ball up and down the field, the miscues and turnovers kept them from capitalizing on anything the Blazers were allowing.
Valdosta State would capitalize on another Ram mistake in the second quarter, and the Blazers made the Rams pay as Cayden Cochran’s one yard run put VSU up 21-0.
The Rams would have a chance to be on the board late in the second quarter, as Kameron smith moved the Rams down the field with passes to Jameze Massey and Jamal Williams, but a fourth and goal pass to Massey in the final seconds was broken up, sending the Rams into the locker room with its biggest deficit in the Connell Maynor era.
As the third quarter got underway the WSSU fans were clamoring for something to cheer about and it looked like the Rams were going to give them what they wanted.
On WSSU’s second possession of the final half, Kameron Smith found Tehvyn Brantley for a 37 yard pick up, before Smith would find Massey behind the secondary for a 29 yard touchdown, pulling WSSU to with two scores at 21-7.
The Rams defensive unit, despite the score had been playing well, and they continued as they held the Blazers on their next series and once again the Rams were on the move.
Maurice Lewis would pick up 21 yards on first down, and followed that with another 11 yard gain. After a defensive holding penalty, the Rams were knocking on the door for another score. But on second and goal, Kameron Smith would scramble and try to find the endzone, but as he stretched for the goal line, he was stripped and the ball went into the endzone were Valdosta recovered the fumble.
That mistake turned out to be one of the biggest of the game.
“He could’ve chose to throw it away but he pulled it down and ran, which is fine as long as he protected the ball. They did a great job of ripping it out when they had opportunities,” Maynor said.
“That pretty much took wind out of us. I tried to keep the guys up right there, but they drove the ball right down on us and that really killed everything we had going. We get it in right there, no telling what can happen.”
Valdosta would then go on their longest drive of the season, a 17 play drive that took almost eight minutes off the clock and they cashed in with another score.
The Blazers would take advantage of another ram turnover late and score another touchdown for the final score of 35-7.
“These guys wanted to win the game really bad, and right now they are down and feeling really bad. But I told them to keep their heads up, we have nothing to be ashamed about”, said Maynor.
“In the game of life, we just lost a football game – period. It’s entertainment. There are families in Connecticut that lost their children, and brothers and sisters and parents. They have something to hang their heads down about. They have something to cry about”, Maynor told his Rams in trying to put the game into perspective.
“We are back to back CIAA Champs, back to back Regional Champs and probably back to back Black College National Champs. We are disappointed, but I am proud of what we have accomplished. We are only the second HBCU to ever make it to the Championship game. So we have a lot to hold our heads high about”, added Maynor.
Offensively, Maurice Lewis rushed for 58 yards, while Bryce Sherman added 28 yards and Kameron Smith 17 yards.
Smith passed for 269 yards and one touchdown on 16 of 37 passing with two interceptins. He was sacked four times.
Jameze Massey led the Ram receivers with 168 yards receiving on nine catches and one touchdown. Juhuann Butler added four catches for 69 yards, while Tehvyn Brantley added two catches (42 yards), as did Jamal Williams (two catches for 26 yards).
Defensively, Donnie owns had a game high 12 tackles and one sack, while Carlos Fields added 10 tackles and one sack. Malcolm Rowe added eight tackles and Daniel Mungin finished with seven tackles. Dominique Tate finished with five tackles and a forced fumble, and Darryl Pulliam and Kendra Reid also had five tackles. Barry Tripp and Justin Wilkerson chipped in four tackles each.