VALDOSTA - Valdosta State University football staged an uber-dramatic comeback to try and preserve their attempt at a second straight NCAA Division II title and keep a 25 game win string in tact, but a feisty University of West Florida tight end put that ambition to bed with just six seconds on the clock as West Florida beat Valdosta 38-35 to advance to a region final against Lenior-Rhyne College on Sat., Dec. 7. Lenoir-Rhyne (13-0) beat Carson-Newman (9-3) 49-21 in their round two playoff game. Valdosta finishes 10-1.
Four area players; Ridgeview High graduates Stanley Dye, a fifth year senior transfer defensive back, and Qhahlin Patterson, a senior running back; Fleming Island High graduate Jackson Bull, a sophomore linebacker, and Westside High grad Amari Dubose, a freshman running back and a player at Lakeside Junior High and Orange Park High School, all were part of the exciting finale.
"It's cool to have people here that I can connect with from high school to make my college experience better; it makes the brothership stronger," said Bull, who in the span of his first two years of college football earned a national championship ring after recovering the final onsides kick attempt in last year's championship win over Ferris State and returned to be a more involved part of a second unbeaten (10-0) regular season. "I like to always look forward to the best. I never expected that when I chose to come here that this level of success might come to me; winning 25 games in a row."
Bull finishes with 22 tackles, eight tackles for loss, four sacks, one pass breakup and one forced fumble.
In Saturday's NCAA Division II round two contest, after beating West Florida just two weeks ago, Valdosta got outmuscled in the first half of the rematch with the Argonauts posted 14 points in the second and third quarters to grab leads of 24-7 and 31-14 up to the fourth quarter.
"We gave them a couple of the scores off busted coverages," said Dye, who made a key pass breakup in the fourth quarter that led to the Blazers go-ahead touchdown. Dye finished with six tackles with the one pass breakup.
"We had scouted their number 29 as their deep threat, but that number 88 (tight end Tato Lehtio) came was an intermediate threat from the film. He had a great game and hurt us."
Dye finished out his college football career after transferring to Valdosta from a steller four year career University of Texas-San Antonio. At UTSA, Dye had a redshirt season that afforded him one more college football season.
"Valdosta was always interested and kept recruiting me over the summer after I graduated," said Dye. "I came in the summer camp as a three or four and won a spot. I still have me speed."
Dye contemplated a possible NFL Pro Day in his future.
"Size and speed wise, I think I'm okay, but, I really think my speed can get me on some special teams then I can go from there," said Dye, who finished with 18 tackles, six pass break ups and one interception for the Blazers.
From their the Blazers woke up their offense and grinded out four rush touchdowns to take a 35-31 lead with 2:12 left on the game clock.
Late in the fourth quarter, after Valdosta took the lead, West Florida responded with a string of pass catches from tight end Tate Lehtio, West Florida's lead pass catcher with 69 snags, caught 14 on the day. Lehtio's final catch put the Argos inside the Blazer five yard for four more shots.
A pass interference call put the Argos at the Blazer 10 yard line where two misfired pass attempts into the end zone with outstanding coverage from defensive backs Cory Roberts and Taurus Dotson kept the Argos at bay.
One more pass to Lehtio put the Argos at the one as the 6'-4" Lehtio tried to stretch to the goal line, but was deemed short.
With both head coaches calling time outs to reassess the strategy for a one yard plunge versus a goal line stand, it was West Florida running back Anthony Johnson scoring his third touchdown of the day that stopped the Blazer season.
Also from Ridgeview, Patterson, a running back, saw limited duty as a center back on the Blazer kickoff return team.
"It's sad to go out like this, but I'm glad I came here and had a chance at a national title," said Patterson, who played at Presbyterian College before transferring to Valdosta as a sophomore. "I'll take this experience and remember it and have that memory for the rest of my life."
Patterson, with 165 yards this year and three touchdowns, finishes with a degree in health sciences.
Dubose, whose dad Rodney is head coach at Westside High School, was a player at Lakeside Junior High School and Orange Park High School before finishing his high school career with Westside High School with his dad, did not see any playing time.
Dubose, who played one season at the U.S. Naval Academy, did not play in the game. Dubose played in five games with just two carries for 10 yards.
Also on the West Florida roster are Clay High linebacker Chris Sakamoto, Keystone Heights High quarterback Adrian Ciena and Fleming Island defensive end Ryan Birge.