FLORENCE -- Valdosta State survived a shaky third quarter and leads Winstom-Salem State 21-7 heading int the fourth quarter of the NCAA football Division II national championship game this afternoon at Braly Stadium.
The Blazers were flagged five times for 65 yards in penalties in the quarter, while its offense sputtered.
Meanwhile, the Rams' offense finally broke through on a 29-yard touchdown pass from Kameron Smith to Jameze Massey at the 9:25 mark.
Massey has 141 yards receiving on seven catches.
Winston-Salem looked to make it a one-score game, driving 41 yards to the Valdosta State 4-yard line. But Jeremy Grable forced a Smith fumble on a quarterback sneak, and Chris Pope recovered it for the Blazers in the end zone.
It was the fourth Rams turnover, which is their most in a game this season.
Valdosta State's defense frustrated Winston-Salem State's high-scoring offense, and the Blazers took a 21-0 lead into halftime.
Despite out-gaining the Blazers 249-162 in yards of offense, the Rams, who average 42 points a game, fumbled, were intercepted, punted and were stopped on downs three times in their six first-half offensive drives.
The last one went down to the Valdosta State 4-yard line in the final seconds of the half before quarterback Kameron Smith was sacked and flagged for intentional grounding. Two straight incompletions from the 15 in the final 12 seconds turned it over on downs, and the Blazers kneeled down to runout the clock.
The largest halftime deficit from which a team has come back to win this game is 17 in 1999, when Northwest Missouri State beat Carson Newman in four over times.
Leading 14-0 after one quarter, Valdosta state made it a three-score game on Cayden Cochran's 1-yard quarterback keeper with 5:40 left in the half.
That capped a 13-play, 72-yard drive that ate up 6:52 of clock.
Winston-Salem State probably envisioned a different kind of start while trying to become the first of the Historically Black College and Universities to win a Division II title.
Valdosta State shot out of the starting gate, as Matt Pierce hit a big hole and returned the opening kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown.
It was the second straight year the game opened with a kickoff return for a touchdown.
The Blazers made it 14-0 less than five minutes in, going 64 yards in eight plays on their first offensive drive, capped by Cedric O'Neal's 24-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-1.
It was the largest deficit the Rams had faced this season. Previously, they had trailed by 7 against Concord in Week 2.
After turning it over on downs at the Blazers 37-yard line on its first offensive possession, Winston-Salem State gave it away again on its second drive when Maurice Lewis fumbled and Valdosta State's Lance Holder recovered at the Rams 49.
Their third drive also need with a turnover when Blazers defensive end Tevin Davis intercepted a pass by quarterback Smith near the line of scrimmage.
Still, the Rams got defensive stops after each turnover and ended the first quarter down 14.
O'Neal has 107 yards rushing on 17 carries for the Blazers. It is his fifth 100-yard rushing game this season.