Rams coach Mike White shows his displeasure during the first half against VSU, which jumped out to a 20-6 lead en route to a 30-27 win.
ALBANY -- When Albany State quarterback Stanley Jennings stepped onto the field with 1:35 left in Saturday night's game and the Rams trailing by three points, Valdosta State coach David Dean said he was concerned.
And who wouldn't be?
Jennings, the reigning SIAC Player of the Year, led the No. 6 Rams to a come-from-behind victory two weeks ago against Savannah State and threw for 307 yards and four touchdowns last week against Wingate.
But Jennings, one of the hottest Division II quarterbacks in the nation, went ice cold in the final minute, ending the game by throwing an uncharacteristic interception to Valdosta State's Harrison Dreiling.
Dean and his 12th-ranked Blazers (3-0) walked off the field with a 30-27 victory, continuing Valdosta State's dominance of the in-state rivalry. The Blazers have now won 14 of 15 games against the Rams (2-1).
"That was very disappointing," Albany State coach Mike White said. "We gave ourselves a chance, but we got behind too much at the beginning of the game.
"It's such a big ball game. It's just disappointing. I think the guys fought hard, but it came down to a play or two. It could have gone either way."
Albany State never led in the game, but the Rams tied it up at 27-27 with 14 minutes left when Jennings hit Octavius Staton on a seven-yard touchdown pass. Staton led the Rams in receiving with 116 yards and two touchdowns, while Jennings threw for 249 yards and three touchdowns on 17-of-36 passing.
After VSU kicker Daniel Andersen nailed one of his three field goals with 3:15 left to give the Blazers a 30-27 lead, the Rams had two chances in the final three minutes to take the lead.
But it never happened.
Their first attempt at a game-winning drive started on their own 31-yard line, but Jennings threw three incomplete passes and got sacked, giving Valdosta the ball back. But when the Blazers went four-and-out on their ensuing possession, it gave Jennings and ASU one more shot.
Giving Jennings that many chances to win the game had Dean concerned.
"(Jennings) is a playmaker," Dean said. "He made a lot of plays. They made a lot of plays. You don't know what's going to happen. He had already made a lot of great plays.''
A little life was breathed into the Rams' comeback hope after Jennings opened up that drive with an 18-yard pass to Nathan Hoyte. But then after an Albany State false start, Jennings then threw his first pick of the game. It proved costly.
"They gave us enough time to get the ball down the field, but we just didn't come through," Jennings said. "I hate losing. They came to play, and we were just a little too relaxed. It's a loss that is going to make us learn from our mistakes."
ASU made mistakes late in the game and early in the game, falling behind 14-0 and 20-6 -- but the Rams rallied in the second half, thanks in part to five fourth-down conversions that kept key Albany State drives alive. ASU started the game 5-for-5 on fourth-down conversions before Jennings' incomplete pass on a fourth down late in the fourth quarter.
"The coaches preached about effort, and every time I came up to the huddle, fourth down and however many yards, I let the line know that if they give effort we will get that first down," Jennings said. "And they gave me effort."
Effort was also what White preached to his team during halftime with the Rams trailing 20-12.
"Just leave it on the field, that's what we said to them. Win, lose or draw, just leave it on the field," White said. "I think we gave it a good effort."
ASU came out of the locker room and opened up the second half with an 81-yard touchdown pass to Staton, which tied the game at 20-20 after Jennings completed a pass to Orion Ponder for a two-point conversion. VSU answered with a 63-yard touchdown pass from Austen Roberts to Seantavious Jones with three minutes left in the third quarter to take a 27-20 lead.
Roberts finished the game with 267 yards and two touchdowns, including a 13-yard touchdown pass to Quin Roberson to open up the game. VSU jumped out to a 14-0 lead after a David Bailey 18-yard run, and Dean said it was the rivalry between the two teams that helped his team start the game off so hot.
"I think (it was the rivalry)," Dean said. "And we haven't played in front of a large crowd like this. Any time you're playing in front of a crowd like this it gets your adrenaline going. It gets you excited."
As for the continuation of Valdosta State's dominance of the series, Dean said he wasn't sure how his team has been so successful against one of the toughest teams in Division II.
"It's not that we have edge," Dean said. "We have a good record (against them). But we haven't gotten some breaks in some games. When you have an intense rivalry you don't know what's going to happen. We haven't played them (since 2007). The last five, six years they have been one of the top programs (in the nation). Coach White has done a great job there. I don't know what the record would have been if we had played them the last four years.''
ASU offensive coordinator Uyl Joyner, who was quarterback on the only Rams team to beat Valdosta State, said to look for ASU and VSU to meet up again later on this season in the Division II playoffs.
"We are going to get better, and we are going to use this (to learn from)," Joyner said. "This is going to be bittersweet. This will be a good game for us to look back to and remember what happened.
"This might not be politically correct, but I hope (we face them again) ... we have to bury this and keep moving forward."