CLEVELAND, MS (School Release)-- After a 2-8 finish last season, the Wildcats of Fort Valley State University (FVSU) were eager for the start of the 2012 football season. That anticipation as was quenched on Saturday afternoon (Sept. 1st) when FVSU traveled to Cleveland, MS for a noon contest with the Statesmen of Delta State University (DSU). Saturday's match up was the third meeting between the schools and the Statesmen were one of the teams to hand the Wildcats one of its eight losses last season.
After the Wildcats failed to advance the ball on the game's first possession, the Statesmen took advantage of good field position on a punt return to the Wildcat 40 yard line. On the sixth play of the drive, Statesman running back Avery Horn scored on a 13 yard run to give DSU a 6-0 lead.
On the ensuing drive, FVSU mounted a sustained drive. However, the drive stalled at the Statesmen 21 yard line and FVSU's Justin Rosenbaum missed to the left on a 40 yard field goal attempt.
The Statesmen took over after the missed field goal and stretched their lead to 9-0 after a 12-play, 69 yard drive was climaxed by a 30 yard field goal by D.J. Jarrin.
After the Wildcats went three and out on their next possession, the punt by Rosenbaum was bobbled by the Statesmen returner in the end zone. The teams scrambled in the end zone for the ball and the play was ruled illegal batting by DSU. FVSU scored its first points of the game and season on a safety. The score was now 9-2.
Later in the quarter, with Rosenbaum punting near the Wildcat end zone, the kick was blocked and recovered by DSU at the 15 yard line. After an offensive penalty, the Statesmen took advantage of the short field when quarterback Trevor Wooden connected with Kevin Jackson on a 19-yard touchdown strike to extend the DSU lead to 16-2.
With 7:28 left before halftime, the Wildcats struck back! Sophomore running back Seth Hill broke free on a 64-yard run from scrimmage for the touchdown. Rosenbaum's extra point was good and the Wildcats cut the DSU lead to 16-8.
With 1:34 left before intermission, the Statesmen pushed their lead to 23-9 after a seven play, 98-yard drive ended with a 17 yard touchdown pass from Wooden to tight end Reed Falkner.
Despite a third quarter drive by the Statesmen that consumed almost seven minutes, neither team scored in the quarter. At the start of the fourth, the Wildcats drew silence from the DSU fans. Seth Hill was the source of that calm after a 29 yard touchdown run. That was followed by a two-point conversion pass from quarterback Antonio Henton to wide receiver Chris Slaughter. With the DSU lead narrowed to 23-17, the Wildcats had wrestled the momentum from the Statesmen with 12:21 remaining in the game.
On the ensuing DSU drive, FVSU's Jabioas Glenn intercepted a Statesmen pass and the Wildcats went back on offense from the DSU 34 yard line. After driving the ball inside the 10 yard line, the Wildcats failed to score when a Rosenbaum field goal attempt was partially deflected.
The Statesmen took over on offense and quickly went three and out. A short punt was returned by Slaughter to the DSU 30 yard line. With 8:01 left, the Wildcats had another opportunity to take their first lead of the game.
Now facing a first down and 10 from the DSU 13 yard line, the Wildcats grabbed their first lead of the game when Henton found Slaughter on a crossing route at the one yard line and Slaughter went in for the touchdown. Rosenbaum added the extra point and FVSU took its first lead, 24-23.
At the 3:12 mark, fortune smiled even further for the Wildcats. With the Wildcats forced to punt, the Rosenbaum kick was fumbled by the Statesmen at their own 26 yard line. On the first play from scrimmage, Seth Hill scored on a 26 yard scamper to give the Wildcats a little more breathing room by extending the FVSU lead to 31-23 after Rosenbaum's extra point conversion.
With the scoring cushion, the Wildcat defense needed to stop the Statesmen on just one more set of downs. They did and the FVSU second half comeback was complete. The Wildcats got their first win of the 2012 season over the 14th ranked Statesmen, 31-23.
The Wildcats finished the game with 353 yards of total offense. Newcomer Seth Hill finished with 144 yards on 17 carries. He had touchdown runs of 28 and 26 yards. Senior quarterback Antonio Henton completed 19 of 42 passes for 234 yards. He completed passes to five different receivers. Christopher Slaughter tallied five catches for 72 yards. His lone touchdown catch was 13 yards and he caught a pass for an extra point conversion.
Defensive newcomers Josh Johnson (SO., rover) and Leron Furr (JR., linebacker) led the Wildcats with 11 tackles each.
Now 1-0, the Wildcats will continue regional play next weekend (Saturday, Sept. 8th) when they travel to Valdosta, Georgia to meet the Blazers of Valdosta State University. Kick-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.