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West Florida stuns defending champion Valdosta State 38-35 in D2 playoffs

A one-yard touchdown plunge by running back Anthony Johnson with six seconds remaining lifted visiting West Florida (10-2) over top-ranked defending national champion Valdosta State 38-35 in the second round of the NCAA Div. II playoffs on Saturday. 

Johnson’s game-winning touchdown — his third TD of the afternoon — capped an 11-play, 75-yard drive in the game’s closing minutes, leaving the crowd of 4,261 at Valdosta’s Bazemore-Hyder Stadium stunned and in disbelief, particularly since their beloved Blazers had furiously rallied from a 31-14 fourth quarter deficit to take a 35-31 lead with 2 minutes and 12 seconds remaining.

Johnson’s reaction was a little different.  “All I can say is God speed,” said the elated junior. 

The shocking upset by the 20th-ranked Argonauts snapped Valdosta State’s 25-game winning streak while unceremoniously knocking Kerwin Bell’s highly-touted Blazers out of the playoffs.

Valdosta State finished the season at 10-1.

UWF, located in Pensacola, will advance to next week’s quarterfinals against undefeated Lenoir-Rhyne in Hickory, N.C.  It will be West Florida’s third straight road game in the playoffs.  Last week, the Argos defeated Wingate 38-17 in a steady rain at Irwin-Belk Stadium in North Carolina.

Sophomore running back Ameen Stevens rushed for four touchdowns as Lenoir-Rhyne (13-0) advanced to the quarterfinals with a 49-21 rout of No. 25 Carson-Newman (9-3) on Saturday. 

In Saturday’s other second round games, Valdosta State transfer Roland Rivers III threw four touchdown passes as Slippery Rock (12-0) — the No. 1 seed in Super Region One — defeated Shepherd University 51-30 at Mihalik-Thompson Stadium.  

It was Slippery Rock’s fourth all-time win in six meetings against Shepherd.

Rivers completed 31 of 47 passes for 416 yards while wide receiver Jermaine Wynn, Jr., a redshirt junior from Pittsburgh, caught a program-record eighteen passes for 229 yards and a pair of touchdowns to lead The Rock — the nation’s eighth-ranked team — into next week’s quarterfinals against Notre Dame (Ohio) — a 20-17 winner at second-seeded Kutztown earlier in the day.

Placekicker Tanner Harding’s 30-yard field goal as time expired sent thirteenth-ranked Notre Dame (12-1) into the quarterfinals against SRU. 

Slippery Rock’s Charles Norweah, a 5-9, 185-pound senior running back from Levittown, Pa., rushed for 163 yards on 21 carries and scored two touchdowns.

SRU, which amassed 652 yards in the game, jumped out to an early 20-0 lead on Saturday and led 23-9 at the break before Shepherd’s Tyson Bagent led the Rams back into the game, tying it at 23-23 on a 38-yard touchdown strike to Rodney Dorsey late in the third quarter before Slippery Rock regained the lead and pulled away a few minutes later.

Bagent, a sophomore from Martinsburg, W.V., threw for 413 yards and four scores in the losing effort.

Running back Marvin Campbell rushed for three touchdowns as Ferris State (11-0) — last year’s national runner-up to Valdosta State — routed Central Missouri 37-10.  Ferris State, which piled up 372 yards on the ground, will host Northwest Missouri State (12-1) — a lopsided 63-7 winner over outmanned Lindenwood — in Big Rapids, Michigan, next Saturday.  It will be the Bulldogs fourth straight quarterfinal appearance. 

Central Missouri finished the season with an 11-2 mark.

Minnesota State Mankato (12-0) also advanced to the quarterfinals with a convincing 35-7 win over Colorado State-Pueblo (11-2) on Saturday.  The fourth-ranked Mavericks amassed 547 yards of total offense in the game while limiting CSU-Pueblo to 176 yards.

Minnesota State will host Texas A&M-Commerce next Saturday in a quarterfinal game at Blakeslee Stadium in Mankato. 

Employing a stifling defense, Texas A&M-Commerce (11-2) advanced to the third round of the Div. II playoffs with a 23-3 victory over Colorado School of Mines on Saturday.  It was the Lions second straight win on the road in this year’s playoffs.

Darcy G. Richardson is a historian and the author of more than a dozen books. His latest is Loyola's Improbable Ramblers: 55 Years in the Making, available now on Amazon.

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