Story courtesy of Fort Valley State Athletics
Photo courtesy of Lenoir-Rhyne Athletics
When the Wildcats of Fort Valley State University (FVSU) met the Bears of Lenoir-Rhyne University (LRU) in the first round of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division II Football Playoffs on Saturday, November 17th, the biggest question before kickoff was whether the Wildcat defense would be able to shut down the potent Bear offense? Ranked number one in the nation in rushing, LRU’s option based offense averaged 384 yards rushing per game and 6.5 yards per carry coming into the playoff matchup.
Played in Moretz Stadium on LRU campus, a partial answer to that question came pretty quickly. On their second possession of the game, the Bears Isaiah Whitaker took a hand-off up the middle and went untouched for a 57 yard touchdown run as the Bears took an early 7-0 lead. For the remainder of the first half, both teams had multiple scoring opportunities but neither could capitalize. The score at halftime remained 7-0.
To start of the third quarter, the Bears returned the opening kick to the Wildcat one-yard line. A penalty on the return spotted the football at the FVSU 15. Six plays later, the Bears scored on a 4th and goal run by Whitaker to extend their lead to 14-0.
After a three-and-out drive by the Wildcats, the Bears took possession and drove the ball to the FVSU 30-yard line and then fumbled. The Wildcats took possession and drove the ball to the Bear 17-yard line. On a third down play, quarterback Antonio Henton’s pass was intercepted at the goal line by free safety Michael Green who returned it 100 yards for a Bear touchdown. LRU now led 21-0.
Now force into a hurry-up offense, the Wildcats strung together an eight play, 63 yard drive which resulted in their first and only score of the game. Henton capped the drive with an 11 yard touchdown pass to Stephen Stroman. The two-point conversion attempt failed but the LRU lead was cut to 21-6.
On the ensuing Bear drive, Thomas Wolfe intercepted a pass at the Bear 45-yard line to put the FVSU offense back on the field. The Wildcats drove the ball to the Bear 10-yard line but came away with no score. This recurring theme was the Achilles Heel for the Wildcats. During the game the Wildcats had the football inside the red zone on five different occasions and only managed the one touchdown.
With just over four minutes left in the game, the Bears were able to hold the ball for the reminder of the contest and advanced to the second round of the playoffs with a 21-6 win. They will meet the Eagles of Carson-Newman next Saturday, November 24th in Jefferson City, TN.
While the Wildcats lost the game, they managed a positive answer to the initial question by containing the high powered Bear offense to just 276 total yards. The 243 yards the Bears gained on the ground was below their season average of 384 yards per game. Although the Wildcats won that battle, they ultimately lost the war.
FVSU finishes its season with an 8-4 record. For the game, senior Antonio Henton completed 25 passes on 42 attempts for 242 yards with one touchdown. Senior wide receiver Eric McCree had seven receptions while fellow receiver Christopher Slaughter logged five catches. Defensively, the Wildcats were led by junior linebacker Leron Furr who finished with 10 tackles.