PHENIX CITY, Ala. – Big plays and defense were the key in helping the Tuskegee University Golden Tigers beat Albany State 27-14 in the second annual Whitewater Classic, held at Garrett Harrison Stadium.
Although there were big plays throughout the game, the two biggest plays didn’t occur until the fourth quarter.
With the offense struggling to move the ball, Kevin Lacey threw a hitch to Van Powell that went for three yards until Powell spun around without his knee hitting the ground. The junior receiver was able to get back to his feet and sprinted down the field reaching the end zone 79 yards later. The extra point was blocked, but Tuskegee held the lead 20-14 with 10:07 remaining in the game.
Tuskegee (2-0) and Albany State (0-2) traded possessions until the Golden Rams got the ball at their own 35-yard line with 5:50 remaining in the game. They proceeded to drive down the field, using 11 plays to get to the Tuskegee 10 yard line with just 30 seconds remaining, and that is where it ended.
Caleb Edmonds dropped back to pass when Tuskegee linebacker Ricky Norris stepped in front of the pass and raced to the end zone 95 yards away. The sophomore was able to score and sealed the victory for the Golden Tigers with just 16 seconds remaining on the clock.
“The play before that they ran the same route and I saw the coaches yelling to do it again,” Norris said. “The quarterback looked at him the whole way and I just jumped the route. All I could think of was I have to score, I have to score.”
Ironically, that was one of the first times the Golden Rams threw to the weak side late in the game.
“I knew they were going to come my way and they went to the opposite side,” Tuskegee Osband Thomspon said. “That was the first time they threw it that way the whole time, I looked up and saw Ricky with it and just started running.”
Although those plays were near the end of the game and helped seal the victory, there were other big plays that happened in the contest that helped swing momentum to the Golden Tigers.
The Golden Tigers didn’t have to wait long to have a big play as the opening kick was taken back 82 yards by Dennis Norfleet before he was taken down at the Albany State 15 yard line. Tuskegee punched it in three plays later when Lacey hit senior Marquel Gardner for a four-yard touchdown, the 100th career reception by Gardner.
The second big play occurred at the beginning of the second quarter as Albany State lined up for a field goal. The ball was blocked by Devonta Ramseur and picked up Jewell Ratliff, and the senior outran the Golden Rams for a 73-yard return and a 14-0 lead with 12:00 remaining in the first half.
Albany State was able to break through for a couple of touchdowns in the first half against the Tuskegee defense who recorded a shutout in the opener. The Golden Rams scored early in the second quarter, ending the streak of 82:12 of scoreless football for Tuskegee.
“At that point we were getting on each other,” Thompson said. “We just said somebody has to make a play and we had to get back to playing our type of football. We had to get things right and kept fighting.”
And keep fighting is exactly what they did, all the way to the end.
The game ended much like it began, a big play. Ratliff intercepted the pass on the final play of the game and hit the deck as the clock expired.
Tuskegee was held to just 232 yards of total offense, including 94 yards passing. Norfleet led the rushing attack with 79 yards on just seven carries, including a 47-yard run in the second half, while the Golden Tigers were able to put up 138 yards rushing on the Albany State defense.
Defensively, the Golden Tigers held Albany State to 293 yards of offense, including 115 on the ground on 44 carries. Ratliff finished the night with 11.5 tackles, while Thompson added nine. The Golden Tigers were able to record four quarterback sacks, one quarterback hurry and three interceptions.
“They really didn’t drive the ball a whole lot on our defense,” Tuskegee coach Willie Slater said. “They moved the ball within the 20s a little, not a whole lot. I thought our defense played great, they set the bar high after the first game. I love the way they are playing right now.”
Tuskegee returns to action next Saturday against Winston-Salem State at Cleve L. Abbott Memorial Alumni Stadium. The game will kick at 1 pm, and can be seen on the Tuskegee Sports Network and ESPN3.