Panthers Battle No. 1 Blazers in National Showcase Game

Photo By: Andrew Cugliari
Photo By: Andrew Cugliari

VALDOSTA, Ga. – For the first time in program history, the Ohio Dominican football program faced a defending national champion and current No. 1 ranked team in the country, and despite career-high performances from juniors Devanaire Conliffe (Willoughby, Ohio) and Jayden Davis (Springfield, Ohio), the Panthers fell on the road to Valdosta State Saturday evening, 48-21.

The Panthers (1-1) and Blazers (2-0) were on national display Saturday evening, as the game was selected as the NCAA Division II Showcase Game of the Week on ESPN3. ODU is one of just two programs in the country to have been picked for multiple national showcase games this fall.

Conliffe and sophomore quarterback Evan Ernst (Mason, Ohio) continued their early season connection, pairing up for two touchdowns for the second consecutive week. Conliffe finished with five receptions for a career-high 131 yards. His two-touchdown performance was the fourth of his collegiate career.

Ernst recorded 18 completions on 27 attempts for 210 yards and the two scores. The sophomore also rushed a career-high 14 times and found the end zone on the ground once. Also on the receiving end of Ernst's passes was senior David Turner (Fort Wayne, Ind.), who caught a team-best seven passes for 54 yards. Turner now has 17 receptions in two games this fall.

For a defense that was on the field for 71 plays, Davis led the way for the Black & Gold with a career-high 13 total tackles. Senior Camren Moore (New Carlisle, Ohio) and junior Dauson Dales (Defiance, Ohio) added 13 and 10 stops, respectively, giving ODU three players with double-digit tackles for the first time since a 57-17 win over Malone last October.

Senior Alessio Amato (Zanesville, Ohio) continued his strong start to the campaign with seven tackles, one for loss, and a fumble recovery. With his recovery, the senior now has two takeaways this season, as he also recorded an interception in the season-opening win at Shepherd.

After the Panthers were forced to punt on the opening possession of the game, the Blazers scored on their first offensive snap, a 58-yard reverse pass. Valdosta State used a strong running attack in the first half, complemented by timely big plays in the passing game to take a two score lead at halftime, 28-14.

Finding itself in an early 14-0 hole for the second consecutive week, ODU took their final drive of the first quarter 75 yards, over 6 plays, to score its first touchdown. Ernst found Conliffe running down the middle of the field for a 46-yard score, their second touchdown connection over 40 yards this season.

Valdosta State added two more scores in the second quarter, while the Panthers found the end zone just once. Ernst capped a 13-play, 69-yard drive with a seven-yard run, diving past the front left pylon.

The Blazers then held a 41-20 advantage in offensive plays in the second half, racking up a 279-58 edge in total offense over the final 30 minutes. Ernst was sacked four times in the second half after being dropped in the backfield just once in the first half.

After three scores by VSU, the Panthers tallied the final score of the night with an Ernst-to-Conliffe, 35-yard score with 3:54 to play.

ODU will look to bounce back when the team welcomes Findlay for the Great Midwest opener at 12:05 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 21. The contest will be the Panthers' second straight national showcase contest, Homecoming and Hall of Fame Day.

Contact: Tyler Jester

jestert@ohiodominican.edu