By Jim O'Hara
ROME -- The Shorter Hawks were unable to untrack perhaps the hottest team in the Gulf South Conference on Thursday night at Barron Stadium when visiting Valdosta State Blazers cruised to a 37-6 conference win, their fifth straight, over SU.
"They're a good football team that has all the ingredients," Shorter head coach Phil Jones said after the game, which was the Hawks' first-ever GSC home game and was the GSC-TV Live Game of the Week, "and I think we'll get there.
"Our kids played hard like they always do," he added, "and they'll continue to work hard."
Led by quarterback Cayden Cochran, who finished the game completing 20 of 23 passes for 200 yards and two touchdowns, the Blazers never trailed as they jumped out to a 24-0 halftime lead and never looked back. So accurate was Cochran, that the junior was perfect in his first 10 passes of the game as Valdosta State (7-2, 4-1) tallied 17 points in the opening period.
"He's a very accurate quarterback," Jones said of Cochran, "and they do a good job with their offense. But our guys kept after them."
Freshman defensive end Laynce Sanders proved to be one Hawk who kept after the Blazers as he ended the night with two sacks to give him 7.5 for the year that became the single-season record for Shorter.
Junior fullback Bradley Moon again turned in a solid performance when the Hawks had the ball, finishing the game with 116 yards rushing - his fifth time passing the century mark this season - on 21 carries.
Shorter made the Blazers take notice on the opening series of the game when the Hawks put together an impressive drive down to the VSU 23 but came away empty-handed when Troy Postell's 40-yard field goal attempt missed its mark.
The Blazers made the most of the miss on the ensuing series, putting together a drive of their own to the Shorter 21 where VSU kicker Daniel Andersen split the uprights from 38 yards out to give the visitors early lead.
With 1:28 left in the first quarter, Valdosta broke into the end zone for the first time of the night, moving the ball 65 yards on just six plays – the big gainer a 47-yard pass from Cochran to Regginald Lewis – with the final snap seeing Cochran taking it in for the touchdown from a yard out.
Less than 20 seconds later, Valdosta got the ball back when the Hawks fumbled the ball away, the first of three for the game, at their own 17 where VSU defender Dominique Wheeler scooped it up and scored to give his team the 17-0 lead.
Valdosta converted another Shorter fumble into points midway through the second period when Ryan Smith picked up the loose pigskin that gave the Blazers the ball at the Shorter 43, and from there it took VSU four snaps to take the 24-0 advantage when Cochran connected with Gerald Ford for an 8-yard touchdown pass.
Cochran added his second TD early in the second half with a 17-yard strike to Lewis that came on the heels of Shorter's third fumble of the night.
But the Hawks responded with their successful drive of the game, moving the ball 81 yards down the field on nine plays, the final one resulting in a 5-yard touchdown run by Kirk Wilson with 5:52 to go in the third period.
Valdosta closed out the scoring just under two minutes later when Cedric O'Neal scored from four yards out.
The Hawks, now 4-5 overall and 0-3 in the GSC, will get an extended break thanks to the Thursday night game, returning to action November 3 when they head to Carrollton to face conference foe West Georgia.
"Hopefully, this will be a good break for the kids," said Jones. "They deserve it. But then we'll come back and go back to work like they've done every week."