MANKATO, Minn. (AP) — Facing a top-five rush defense, Valdosta State’s Cayden Cochran knew he needed to have a big game throwing the ball.
The junior quarterback delivered, passing for 278 yards and two touchdowns while also rushing for two second-half scores as Valdosta State defeated Minnesota State-Mankato 35-19 in the semifinals of the NCAA Division II football playoffs Saturday.
“We knew (the Minnesota State) defense was going to try to stop the run like they do every week,” said Cochran, who completed 16 of 28 passes. “I knew I was going to have to throw the ball. The offensive line did a great job and gave up (one sack), and the receivers did a great job. I just needed to get the ball in their hands.”
Austin Scott added 158 yards rushing and a touchdown for the Blazers (11-2), who will face Winston-Salem in the championship game Dec. 15 in Florence, Ala.
Cochran threw second-quarter touchdowns of 8 yards to Gerald Ford and 9 yards to Seantavious Jones, helping Valdosta State overcome a 10-0 deficit. Cochran added scoring runs of 5 yards and 1 yard in the second half, the latter giving the Blazers a 28-13 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Jones had four receptions for 122 yards in the game.
Valdosta State totaled 498 yards of offense, the most by a Minnesota State opponent this season. The Mavericks came into the game allowing 16.6 points and 271 yards of offense per game.
“We just made a couple more plays than they did,” Blazers coach David Dean said. “Our defense stepped up in the second half, and we were able to establish our run game.”
Minnesota State (13-1) got 195 yards passing and 127 yards rushing from Jon Wolf. His 17-yard TD pass to Adam Thielen gave the Mavericks a 10-0 lead with 12:17 left in the first half. Thielen finished with six catches for 128 yards.
Their other touchdown came on a 1-yard run by Andy Pfeiffer in the fourth quarter. Minnesota State was 4 of 5 on red-zone scoring opportunities, but two of those were short field goals by Sam Brockshus. Valdosta State had four touchdowns in four red-zone possessions.
“We have been pretty good at getting points in those situations this season,” said Minnesota State coach Aaron Keen. “Today, (Valdosta State) did a good job of shutting us down. We had to do a better job of converting those opportunities.”
Keen replaced coach Todd Hoffner in August after Hoffner was charged with two felony counts of child pornography. A judge dismissed the case two weeks ago, agreeing with Hoffner that videos taken with a university-issued cellphone of his children dancing after a bath depicted innocent child’s play. But Hoffner has not been reinstated by the university.
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