The Rams had the ball first-and-goal at Valdosta State’s four. Quarterback Kameron Smith, the CIAA Offensive Player of the Year, dropped back to pass on second down after Maurice Lewis was stopped for no gain on first down. The Blazers’ pass rush forced Smith to scramble, and he fumbled the ball into the end zone. Valdosta State middle linebacker Chris Pope recovered it in the end zone for a touchback.
“We had the momentum,’’ Maynor said. “No telling what could have happened, but we didn’t get it done. They made a good play. They stripped the ball and they recovered. It was very deflating, because we had the momentum and were driving and it looked like we were going to cut it to a seven-point game.”’’
Valdosta State coach David Dean said his team’s defense – ranked 46th in Division II – was the key to victory.
No question,’’ said Dean, whose team rebounded from a 2-2 start to win its final 10 games, “Anytime you can hold a team that can score 42 (points) to 7.
After Pope’s fumble recovery, Valdosta State methodically drove 80 yards in 17 plays, taking 7:30 off the clock in the process, and put the game away.
“Anytime you turn the ball over four or five times it’s a slim chance that you can win the game,” Maynor said. “And when you play a great team like Valdosta you are going to come out on a losing end.”
Winston-Salem’s last six-turnover game was in against Saint Augustine’s in the seventh game of the 2010 season, Maynor’s first year at the helm. The Rams were 6-0 but lost 40-35.
“We were riding high and overconfident,’’ Maynor said of that loss.
It was a different scenario this time. Maynor aid the Rams just “kept shooting ourselves the foot (with fumbles). They didn’t a good job raking the ball out. We didn’t do a good job taking care of it.’’
In addition to their half dozen turnovers, Winston-Salem also turned the ball over on downs three times and dropped several passes.
Winston-Salem moved the ball well at times, but the Rams were unable to sustain drives because of turnovers, and their defense had no answer for Valdosta State’s running game. The Blazers rushed for 207 yards, which enabled them to dominate time off possession. They held the ball for nearly 36 of the game’s 60 minutes. Freshman running back Cedric O’Neal was the Blazers’ offensive star. O’Neal rushed for 140 yards on 24 carries.
Smith threw for 269 yards for the Rams and a touchdown, a 29-yard strike to Jameze Massey in the third quarter. Massey had nine receptions for 168 yards.
Maynor said playing for the championship and experiencing the bowl-like atmosphere that surrounded the game is something that the Rams will never forget. Both teams arrived in Florence on Wednesday and participated in a number activities sponsored by the NCAA and local organizers.
“They rolled out the red carpet,’’ Maynor said. “The bowl atmosphere might have been a little too much for the guys, this being our first time and not knowing what to expect.’’