GSC Playoffs Preview & Pick - Quarterfinals

November 30th, 2023 7:00am

GSC Playoffs Preview & Pick - Quarterfinals

Here we go again. If Lenoir-Rhyne and Valdosta State are on the field together, it has to be the postseason. Both sides earned their way to the quarterfinals through second round upsets on the road and now get to play for Super Region 2 supremacy.


Gulf South Playoff Results - Second Round

No. 14 Valdosta State 38, No. 8 Delta State 31


NCAA Division II Playoffs - Quarterfinals (all times Eastern)

No. 11 Lenoir-Rhyne (12-1, 8-1 SAC) at No. 14 Valdosta State (12-1, 7-1 GSC)
Saturday, Dec. 2 at 1:00 PM | Valdosta, Ga. | Audio | Stats | Video 

Lenoir-Rhyne University

Lenoir-Rhyne continues its recent run of postseason success after knocking off top-seeded and fourth-ranked Benedict College last weekend on the road. BC led by a score of 19-14 at the half, but the LR offense took off in the second half to claim a 35-25 victory. Benedict entered the contest with Division II’s top defensive unit, but the Bears had 560 total yards of offense behind Sean White’s 310 passing yards and 216 rushing yards from Dwayne McGee.

The Bears average 39.7 points and 452.6 yards per game on the season, upping their production in the postseason with 49 points and 589 yards per contest in the first and second rounds. McGee is the unquestioned workhorse, totaling 1,429 yards and 10 touchdowns, however Zayvion Tuner-Knox has contributed eight touchdowns of his own on the ground. White’s consistency when on the field has stabilized the offense as the junior signal caller completes 67 percent of his pass attempts with 18 touchdowns and just four interceptions.

Defensively, Lenoir-Rhyne keeps the opposition at bay with just over 12 points a game. In the trenches, the Bears are nothing short of dominant while holding opponents to just 78.7 yards rushing per game. LR has 114 tackles for loss and 40 total sacks, led by Harlon Hill Finalist Andre Jefferson with 50 total tackles, 20 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, and two forced fumbles. The unit is an opportunistic one, forcing 24 total turnovers including 15 interceptions.

Valdosta State University

The Blazers moved on to the quarterfinals following a seven-point win over No. 8 Delta State on the road, scoring 10 points over the game’s final five minutes to complete the come-from-behind win. VSU had 477 total yards of offense, once again led by Harlon Hill Finalist quarterback Sammy Edwards with 347 yards and two touchdowns through the air while adding another score on the ground. The Valdosta State secondary stepped up in a big way, holding Gulf South Offensive Player of the Year Patrick Shegog of DSU to just 106 passing yards. The defense did surrender 223 yards and three touchdowns on the ground, but the line did have six tackles behind the line of scrimmage.

Edwards is in the discussion for best Division II player for good reason. In his junior season, the St. Augustine, Fla. native has thrown for over 4,000 yards with 33 touchdowns and just nine interceptions while also rushing for nearly 300 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. The rushing attack does leave a bit to be desired with just a hair over 130 yards per game, but the offense as a whole averages nearly 40 points and 455.8 yards per game. In the playoffs, VSU is putting up 50 points per contest, including a 60 burger in the opening round against Limestone.

On defense, Valdosta has bent all season but rarely breaks, holding opponents to just under 24 points per game. Sixteen different Blazers have recorded at least one sack this season and the team has forced 23 total turnovers, punching the ball out 12 times which ranks them 13th overall in NCAA Division II.

The Breakdown

The only time LR and VSU meet on the football field is in the postseason with the Blazers holding a 2-0 all-time record against the Bears with both wins coming in the playoffs. The last meeting saw Valdosta State collect a 61-21 win over Lenoir-Rhyne in 2018 en route to a national title.

This time around, the Bears are coming off their first ever postseason road win and have to travel south to Georgia with hopes of pulling off another playoff upset. Valdosta State’s Bazemore-Hyder Stadium is a traditionally difficult place to play and when thousands of Blazer fans get that stadium rocking it’s hard for visiting teams to gain any momentum.

There is potential for a shootout as both teams possess above average offensive attacks, but the real question is: is the Lenoir-Rhyne defense for real or just a product of what some rate as a relatively weak strength of schedule. Valdosta on the other hand played against much tougher competition week in and week out which comes with being a member of the Gulf South, so they have been battle-tested and survived.

The combined records of the Division II schools that each program has faced in 2023? 

Valdosta State 64-56
Lenoir-Rhyne 72-73

Give me the team that’s done in week in and week out against much tougher competition.

My pick: Valdosta State