Statesmen begin 2021 in triumphant fashion
By Andy Collier
Sports Editor, The Bolivar Bullet
It had been a long wait.
The Delta State University Statesmen had not played a home football game since Nov. 9, 2019 and hadn’t played a regular season football game since Nov. 16, 2019. Last year, the COVID-19 pandemic canceled their season.
On Thursday night (Sept. 2) at Parker Field-McCool Stadium, the Statesmen took the field for their first official football game in almost 22-months when they played the Bethel University Wildcats which are members of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). The Statesmen jumped out to a huge 34-0 lead early in the second quarter, which catapulted them to a 48-14 victory in front of 3,567 fans.
DSU came out with a lot of fire and intensity. Bethel had the ball first on offense, but the drive quickly came to an end as DSU’s Ty Woods intercepted a pass on the third play of the drive. When the Statesmen got the ball for the first time, they went right to work. Rico Owens II capped off a two-play drive with a six-yard touchdown run with 13:22 on the first quarter clock. DSU players were fired up about getting on the board. The kick from Conner Mantelli was good and DSU was up 7-0. The first two minutes of the game set the tone as the guys in green and white were loving life on the football. The players relished their time on the field.
“We created a turnover and stuck it in the end zone,” said Delta State Head Football Coach Todd Cooley about the first few minutes of the game. “We couldn’t hardly get anybody under control they were so excited, and it was just fun to be back out here.”
DSU out gained Bethel in total yards 509-356. DSU’s defense on the night forced seven turnovers, but the offense had five turnovers of its own. On special teams, DSU out gained Bethel in kickoff returns yards 113-52. Parker Burleson had a great game punting the ball for DSU as he averaged 51.3 yards per punt on three punts with two of them landing inside the 20-yard line. He also had four touchbacks on kickoffs.
“I’m glad we won, but we have a long way to go,” said Cooley. “The turnovers are going to be a point of emphasis this week. I thought we played decent on special teams. I was really proud of our kickoff cover team. Parker Burleson, in his first game here, had a lot of touchbacks, and I thought he did a really good job. There’s a lot to learn from this. We needed to play a game. It’s been a long time. I was proud of the people that came out, and I hope they had a great time.”
On offense, Patrick Shegog completed 16-of-19 passes for 196 yards with three touchdowns and an interception, and Cole Kirk completed 11-of-15 passes for 122 yards with one touchdown and no picks to lead DSU’s passing game. Owens led the ground attack with 85 yards and two touchdowns on eight carries, followed by Jamarcus Ellison with 64 yards on seven carries and Kory Gainwell with 37 yards and a touchdown on 14 caries. Dohnte Meyers caught five passes for 85 yards with a touchdown to lead all DSU receivers, followed by Deion Dampier with five receptions for 63 yards and two touchdowns and Adam Duncan with two catches for 39 yards and a touchdown.
In the kicking game, Mantelli went 6-of-7 on point-after kicks and 0-for-3 on field goals.
On defense, Sherrod Page recorded seven tackles with two interceptions, Woods had six tackles with an interception, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery, Tim Williams had four tackles with three sacks, John Valesco recorded four tackles with a fumble recovery, Emanuel Barber racked up three tackles with a forced fumble and a fumble recovery and Junior Faulk had two tackles with an interception to lead the Statesmen.
DSU will play McKendree University on Saturday (Sept. 11) at Parker Field-McCool Stadium during the Pig Pickin’ festivities. Kickoff is set for 6:00 p.m.