Putting oft-deserved criticisms of the Division II playoff selection process aside for the time being, the Delta State football team was presented with an opportunity on Saturday that most don’t get – a chance to get back at the only team that beat them during the regular season.
And the Statesmen didn’t hesitate, not for a single moment. In arguably the most anticipated round one game on their side of the bracket, Delta State jumped out to an early lead over Gulf South Conference rival West Florida and never looked back.
Patrick Shegog threw two of his six touchdowns in the first quarter to make for a 14-0 lead. The graduate signal-caller, who talked after the game about the differences in his play Saturday versus when the team lost to the Argos in week eight, threw three more touchdowns in the second quarter to give the Statesmen a halftime lead of 35-0.
“Last time we played them, I didn’t have my best game at all, and I apologized to [the team] after the game,” Shegog said. “From the time I apologized, they were like, ‘Nah, you’re good.’ They never lost faith in me, and that brought me a long way because I was really beating myself up over that. I told them no matter the circumstances…I’ve got to find a way to get them the ball, and today we had a chance to bounce back, and I think we did just that.”
The rest of the team played off Shegog’s success as five different receivers found the end zone and five different backs combined for 129 rushing yards. On the other side of the ball, the defense proved to be just as in-sync as one could ask for in the biggest game of the season up until this point.
Facing a big and explosive quarterback in Peewee Jarrett, the Statesmen forced Jarrett to fumble the ball three times in the first half. Linebacker Freddrick Harvey then jumped a pass in the third quarter and returned it to the end zone for a 42-7 lead.
“I think the standard that we’re going to keep tracking is we’re plus-four in the playoffs in turnover ratio and that’s a big stat,” head coach Todd Cooley said. “If we can keep that stacking next week and keep adding to that, that’s a big deal moving forward.”
The final nail in the coffin was a jump pass from Shegog to make the score 49-14 as Delta State was able to run out the clock to advance past the first round of the playoffs for the second straight year.
Joining Shegog on the stat sheet
Of the five receivers who caught touchdowns, Katerian LaGrone made his way into the end zone twice while Jaylen Green, Nathan Howard, Jalen May, and Tycen Gray each added a score of their own. Out of the backfield, Christian Malloy and Kelvin Smith handled most of the work with over 40 yards apiece. Defensive lineman Timaje Porter led the team with nine tackles and a sack as Adrian Hill and Demario Martin joined him in the sack category.
As the Gulf South Conference play 2.0 continues, Delta State will face off against Valdosta State in round two. The Blazers, who have shown improvement since falling to the Statesmen 49-25 in week six, handled first-round opponent Limestone 62-41. Being a higher seed, Delta State will host the rematch on Nov. 25 with a kickoff time yet to be announced.
Moving to the Division III playoffs
While Mississippi’s lone representation in the Division II playoffs saw success on Saturday, the story was quite different on the Division III level. In its first-ever playoff appearance, Belhaven hit a roadblock against national champion frontrunner North Central. The Cardinals exploded for nine touchdowns en route to a 65-0 win. Leading the box score for North Central was quarterback Luke Lehnen (139 yards, three touchdowns) and running back Joe Sacco (141 yards, one touchdown). For Belhaven, running back Kolbe Blunt finished with 67 yards while defensive lineman Carlton Brown had six tackles and one sack.