Walker throws 2 TDs, runs for another in rally
FLORENCE, Ala. -- Valdosta State rallied to win its first NCAA Division II championship Saturday, with Fabian Walker throwing two touchdown passes and running for another score in the Blazers' 36-31 victory over Pittsburg State.
Valdosta State (13-1) forced four turnovers and held Pittsburg State (14-1) to 371 of total offense -- 243 yards below the Gorillas' average. The Blazers intercepted two passes and recovered two fumbles.
Valdosta State's Terrence Bell intercepted two passes, including a momentum-changer late in the first quarter after the Gorillas had taken a 14-0 lead.
"All season long we've bent, but we've come up with turnovers at the right time," Valdosta State coach Chris Hatcher said.
Walker threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Zach Parker early in the second quarter to start the comeback, and Valdosta State took the lead for the first time early in the second half when Pittsburg State punter Andy Majors dropped a snap in the end zone and was stopped for a safety, giving the Blazers a 19-17 lead.
Walker a former starter at Florida State, completed 19-of-27 passes for 165 yards and ran for 55 yards on 11 carries.
"It's all ending on a good note," Walker said. "I just thank God that I had the opportunity to come here and help this team win."
Leading 36-31 late in the fourth quarter, Valdosta State converted on a fourth-down play with a fake punt to keep the ball and hold onto the lead.
Pittsburg State got on the board in the opening minute when linebacker Jimmy Taylor scored on a 32-yard interception return. It was the first interception return for a touchdown in the Division II title game since 1979.
Valdosta State's Will Rhody kicked two field goals, including a 27-yarder with three seconds to play in the first half to tie the game at 17.
"They didn't do anything we were not expecting or we were not ready for," Pittsburg State quarterback Neal Philpot said. "I think we just beat ourselves by turning the ball over."
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press