VALDOSTA, Ga. (UWA Athletics) - For once in their lives West Alabama players had permission to be stingy – greedy even – and it paid off as the Tigers claimed the outright 2017 Gulf South Conference football championship with a 38-14 victory over Valdosta State at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium.
The win improved the Tigers to 8-2 overall and 7-1 in league play. Over the last two seasons West Alabama is 13-3 in Gulf South Conference games, winning the outright league crown this year for the first time since 2012 and winning seven GSC games for the first time in school history.
Valdosta State is 4-4 overall and 3-3 in GSC play. A Blazer win along with other GSC team wins paired with a UWA loss could have left the Tigers in a multi-team tie for the conference crown.
West Alabama made sure there was never a doubt. Valdosta State never got closer than 10 points as the Tigers ran up 511 yards of total offense, 277 of those on the ground. The Tiger defense limited VSU to just 4-of-14 on third down conversions and 1-of-3 on fourth down tries.
"We said we were going to be greedy all week," defensive end Terrence Jones said. "Sharing was never an option."
The Tigers jumped to a 14-0 lead on a 2-yard first quarter score and 3-yard touchdown run in the second period by Lakenderic Thomas, who finished the game with 129 yards on 18 carries. Tyler Rogers was a more than adequate compliment to Thomas, piling up 114 yards on 14 carries. Neither had a negative-yards rushing play.
"I couldn't be more proud of this football team and this staff," UWA head coach Brett Gilliland said. "We came out with a mindset to start fast and we made the necessary plays to do that. We set the tone early and made it stand up."
A 25-yard field goal by Colin Douglas and a 29-yard touchdown pass from Valdosta State quarterback Rogan Wells to Brian Saunds with just over a minute left in the second quarter made it 17-7 West Alabama at the half.
"We didn't want to share a title, so this was a statement game for us," Thomas said. "Our offensive line may have had their best game all year. They knew what we had to do and did it."
Rogers dampened the Valdosta State halftime enthusiasm by sprinting 59 yards to score on the fifth play of the second half, increasing the UWA lead to 24-7.
"Our scout team did a great job all week giving us a great look," Rogers said. "Our offensive line got a great push and it's just our job to hit the hole."
Wells hooked up with Tshumbi Johnson for a 14-yard touchdown pass to cut the West Alabama lead to 24-14 with 9:03 left in the third period. The Blazers would not score again.
Donta Armstrong made a SportsCenter Top 10 touchdown play, leaping over double coverage in the endzone to snatch a 31-yard touchdown pass from Harry Satterwhite to make it 31-14 with 10:22 left.
"We came out of the timeout and Coach Gilliland and Coach (offensive coordinator Don) Bailey said 'let's end this thing'," Armstrong said. "Once the ball is in the air it's either ours or nobody's. I knew I would come down with it."
Tevin Moore finished the scoring with 28 seconds left, capping a 10-play, 40-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown run.
Satterwhite was 18-for-30 for 234 yards and was sacked just one time. Wells completed 17-of-34 for 199 yards and was sacked three times. Wells was also VSU's leading rusher with 91 yards on 16 carries.
Armstrong finished with seven catches for 118 yards and Barnard McGhee caught four for 31. Armstrong finished with 197 all-purpose yards after getting 79 punt return yards.
Saunds was VSU's leading receiver with five grabs for 76 yards.
Terry Samuels was West Alabama's leading tackler with 6.5 stops, including a sack. Jones and Devante Davis also sacked Wells. Malik Slater had 7.5 tackles to lead Valdosta State.
West Alabama finishes the regular season by hosting North Greenville in a non-conference game Saturday at Tiger Stadium. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. Valdosta State closes its season at Shorter.