The West Florida football team upset No. 1 Valdosta State, 38-35, on Saturday in the second round of the NCAA Division II playoffs.
VALDOSTA, Ga. — Three words, Argo fans: Anthony. Johnson. Junior.
Valdosta State, the defending national champions and the top-ranked team in the country, had erased the West Florida football team’s 17-point lead when the upstart Argos took over at their own 25 with just 2:12 left Saturday in Valdosta, Georgia.
Eleven plays later, Johnson was in the end zone, diving across the goal line on fourth down to deliver the upset, 38-35, in the second round of the NCAA Division II playoffs with six seconds to spare.
"All I can say is God speed,” Johnson said in a press release. “When I say that, I mean that God was through me. He lived through me for that fouth-and-1, and I just prayed and said, ‘Lord, please help me get in this end zone, please let us get this victory right here,’ and God came through for me.”
The victory was the Argos’ (10-2 overall) first against the Blazers in program history, and it snapped Valdosta’s 25-game win streak.
One of those wins came at UWF’s expense just three weeks ago, a 26-21 decision that helped the Blazers (10-1) secure their No. 1 ranking ahead of the postseason. Valdosta led 20-0 at half but needed a late defensive stand to hold off a furious UWF comeback.
Saturday, the script got reversed.
Back in enemy territory, UWF managed a 17-7 lead at halftime thanks to a 1-yard Johnson run and quarterback Austin Reed’s 33-yard scoring strike to receiver Ka’Ron Ashley. That advantage grew to 31-14 by the end of the third quarter, as Jervon Newton and Johnson sandwiched a pair of short rushing touchdowns around a 12-yard Seth McGill scoring run.
Johnson finished his afternoon with 73 yards and three scores on 18 carries, while Newton, a redshirt sophomore, chipped in 55 yards.
Facing elimination, Valdosta’s electric offense, which ranked atop the Gulf South Conference all season, finally came to life.
Rogan Wells, the GSC Offensive Player of the Year, opened the fourth quarter with a 64-yard touchdown pass to receiver Lio'undre Gallimore, and the Blazer defense forced a pair of punts on each of the Argos’ next two drives, allowing McGill and Jamar Thompkins to notch a pair of rushing scores that put Valdosta ahead 35-31 with two minutes left.
That’s all the time the Argos needed.
Reed, the GSC Offensive Freshman of the Year, missed on his first two throws before completing four straight passes to Tate Lehtio – including a 15-yard strike on fourth-and-8 from his own 27 — to get UWF to the Blazer 31.
A pass interference call and a fifth pass to Lehtio put the ball at the 1, setting up Johnson for arguably the most important yard in program history.
Reed was 25-of-37 for 298 passing yards, one touchdown and one interception on the day.
"We just remembered how the last game was,” Reed said of the Argos’ fortitude. “It’s gonna be a 12-round title fight. Either one of these teams could have been on the way to a national championship. I think this game was one of the biggest in the nation in terms of who was ready for the national championship, so we knew we were going to have to play all four quarters.
“It’s actually funny — Me and Rodney Coates were talking last night and said, 'We need 38 points.' I promise it’s not made up."
Up next, the Argos will play Lenoir-Rhyne on Saturday, the winner advancing to the Final Four.