Savannah, Ga. — With its three-touchdown lead in the rearview mirror Saturday night, Savannah State University turned to its “Old Heads” to make a couple of key plays.
Senior quarterback D’Vonn Gibbons scored on a 31-yard run with 1:25 left and transfer defensive back Le’Vonte Larry came up with a big interception in the final minute as the Tigers survived to defeat Benedict College 41-34 before 3,743 fans at Theodore A. Wright Stadium.
“They (showed) some resilience because I’ll tell you what, the momentum was not in our favor,” SSU coach Shawn Quinn said.
The Tigers won their Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) opener and upped their record to 2-1.
But it wasn’t easy, although it started that way. SSU scored on six of its first seven possessions and built a 34-14 lead less than four minutes into the third quarter.
But the visitors stormed back with 21 straight points and tied the game with 4:12 left. That’s when Gibbons and Larry — who Quinn called the “Old Heads” — responded. Gibbons finished a six-play, 65-yard game-winning touchdown drive with a quarterback keeper.
“It was a counter play to the left side,” said Gibbons, who finished with 138 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries. “My read told me to pull it. I saw green grass and I knew I was faster than everybody.”
Benedict (2-1, 0-1 SIAC) came right back and drove to the SSU 13-yard line with 19.7 seconds left when Larry stepped up in the save situation.
“I just felt like when we get on their neck, we have to stay on their neck,” said Larry, a transfer from Kennesaw State.
Running back D’Angelo Durham scored twice and DaMarion Colbert had a touchdown run as the Tigers averaged more than six yards a play while producing 361 offensive yards.
Kenneth Lockhart, who’s called “the Golden Boot” by his teammates had a golden night with two fields goals — including a personal-best 51-yarder — and five extra points. He also had four punts for a 48.5-yard average and put one kickoff in the end zone.
The Tigers used some trickery to start the game. Gibbons and J.T. Hartage lined up in the backfield. When Gibbons walked away as if confused, a direct snap went to Hartage, who threw to Brent Carr for a 27-yard gain.
Seven plays later, Durham scored on a 13-yard run to make it 7-0.
SSU doubled the lead on its next possession. This time, the Tigers needed seven plays to go 75 yards, culminating the drive on Durham’s second TD run — a 3-yarder.
But it didn’t take long for the Columbia, S.C., school to get the score back. An end around pass from Darius Philon to a wide-open Pressley gained 63 yards to the 1 and quarterback Eric Phoenix danced into the end zone on the next play to make it 14-7.
But the Tigers weren’t discouraged. They covered an onside kick to begin their next possession at the BC 42, setting up Lockhart’s career-long 51-yard field goal — one yard short of the school record.
Benedict answered with Rigoberto Tinoco’s 42-yard field goal to make it 17-10 seven plays into the second quarter.
SSU regained a 14-point lead when Colbert’s 15-yard TD run finished a 10-play, 73-yard drive.
Another Tinoco field goal — a 31-yarder — trimmed the Tigers advantage to 24-13.
Benedict got a defensive stop and hoped to cut into the lead again in the final minute of the half, but SSU safety Marvin Grunshie intercepted a Phoenix pass and returned it to the BC 20 with 4.8 seconds left.
And on the final play of the half, Lockhart boomed a 37-yarder to make it 27-13.
Carter fumbled the second-half kickoff, but the SSU defense came up big by stopping Benedict a yard short on fourth down at the Tiger 27.
Carter atoned for his miscue with a diving catch of a 44-yard throw from Gibbons on the next offensive possession. Two plays later, Gibbons finished the 73-yard drive with a 15-yard TD, extending the advantage to 34-13.
But Benedict, behind a 306-yard passing night from Phoenix, fought back. Steven Campbell’s touchdown run, a 30-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Joshua Heyward and Phoenix’s 4-yard TD run tied the game.
Benedict first-year coach Chennis Berry, an SSU graduate who played tight end and offensive tackle for coaches Bill Davis and Joe Crosby from 1991-94, was proud of his new team.
“We’re still learning as a program and we’re headed in the right direction,” he said.
And about his time at SSU, Berry, was gracious.
“That’s what molded me as a man,” he said. “We didn’t have all the glitz and glamour back then but we had a brotherhood. We loved each other and fought for each other. Thirty years later, these are my best friends.”
SSU will be back in action on Sept. 25 to host Morehouse College at 6 p.m.
Courtesy: SSU Athletics