Golden Tigers defeat Hornets 17-10 in Turkey Day Classic
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (November 26, 2010) – The Golden Tigers got off to a fast start on offense Thursday in the 87th Annual Turkey Day Classic at Cramton Bowl in Montgomery.
But at the end of the day it was their defense that saw them through in their 17-10 victory against Alabama State.
The Golden Tigers amassed 135 yards total offense in the first period en route to a 10-0 first-half lead. They weren't able to maintain that same level of efficiency for the rest of game, but they still ended the game with 346 total yards, despite only generating 13 in the third quarter.
"We caught them on some plays, the same plays we always run,'' Coach Willie Slater said, explaining the Golden Tigers' early offensive success. "We went away from those plays in the second half, and we had some plays that set us back. We were able to overcome it.''
The defensive unit made sure that the lack of third-quarter offensive production didn't cost the Golden Tigers. It forced four turnovers and stuffing Alabama State's running game in what likely was assistant coach Reginald Ruffin's final game as defensive coordinator. Ruffin is the leading candidate for the vacant head coaching job at Miles College.
If the Turkey Day Classic was Ruffin's last game with the Golden Tigers, his defensive players certainly sent him out in style. They held the Hornets to 93 yards rushing and intercepted quarterback Devin Dominguez three times. They also forced Alabama State to turn the ball over on downs at midfield with 1:39 left in the game.
"Coach Ruffin and the defensive coaches did an outstanding job of preparing for Alabama State,'' Slater said. "They had them pegged. We knew what they were going to do. They've had a good year, and they're going to play for the SWAC championship. We figured they weren't going to change anything.''
Ruffin is expected to accept the Miles job in the next several days.
"If he wants to go, I'm all for him,'' Slater said. "He has done nothing but a good job since he has been here. Whatever he does, I support him100%.''
Ruffin is in his second stint as an assistant with the Golden Tigers. He was defensive line coach in 2002. He returned as defensive coordinator in 2006 when Slater was named head coach.
Thursday's win was the Golden Tigers' sixth in the last seven Turkey Day Classics and their 10th in the last 12. They have a 48-31-3 edge against Alabama State in the Turkey Day Classic and lead the overall series 60-33-4.
The Golden Tigers dominated defensively from the outset. They held Alabama State to just 31 yards in the first quarter and two first downs.
Senior fullback Nykeem Barton staked the Golden Tigers to a 7-0 lead when he scored on a 20-yard run – his 18th rushing touchdown of the year and 19th overall – at 4:17 of the first period. Eduardo Murillo booted a 24-yard field goal with 12:25 left in the half for a 10-0 lead.
A rout appeared to be brewing midway through the second quarter.
Defensive back Kevin Phinazee intercepted a pass at the goal line to thwart a potential Alabama State scoring drive. The Golden Tigers mounted a long, time consuming drive that seemed destined to give them a commanding 17-0 lead. The drive began at their seven-yard line and covered 76 yards. It ended 13 plays later without any points being scored when Barton fumbled on a freak play. Alabama State defensive lineman Quin Bohonnan inadvertently knocked the ball loose with his leg while falling to the ground after he was blocked. Kejuan Riley recovered it for the Hornets and the scored remained 10-0 going into the third quarter.
"That would have been three scores in the first half,'' Slater said. "That would have been big. I was disappointed in that.''
The reprieve seemed to energize Alabama State. Playing with newfound intensity, the Hornets completely shutdown the Golden Tigers in the third period, holding them to 13 yards and no first downs. But they were still unable to get much done offensively. The Hornets' only points of the period – and their first in more than six quarters against the Golden Tigers in two years – came on Andrew Lyons' 28-yard field goal.
The Golden Tigers built the margin back to 14 points when quarterback Joshua Harris connected with redshirt freshman tight end Stephen Clements on a two-yard touchdown pass with 9:59 left in the game. For Clements, who converted from fullback to tight end earlier in the season because the Golden Tigers were short-handed at that position, it was the first catch and first touchdown of his career.
"I was really happy for him,'' Slater said. "I thought it was going to Miles Robinson. But they played (Robinson) and left him open.
The defensive unit set up the touchdown when defensive back Kenneth Baker deflected a pass that was intended for Alabama State wide receiver Charles Payne and linebacker Kelvin Robbins grabbed the ball for an interception.
The Golden Tigers got the ball at their 35, and Harris drove them 65 yards in six plays for what proved to be the winning score. The key play on the drive was a 60-yard pass play from Harris to Antoine Mitchell on third-and-nine at the 36. Harris eluded the Hornets' rush, bounced off one of his linemen, took three steps toward the line of scrimmage and spotted Mitchell, who was eventually tackled at the four.
Harris completed 11 of 22 passes for 196 yards and ended his career with a 13-2 record as the Golden Tigers' starter. Harris was more efficient than spectacular. Eight of his 11 completions were good for first downs and a ninth resulted in the clinching touchdown. He also completed seven passes for 17 or more yards.
Alabama State cut the Golden Tigers' advantage to 17-10 with 8:08 left in the game, but the defense stuffed the Hornets on their next three possessions, limiting them to just one first down the rest of the way. Fittingly, defensive back Ronald Smith intercepted a desperation pass on the final play of the game.
The Golden Tigers finished the season 9-2. It is their seventh consecutive season with nine or more wins and their 12th in the last 13. The victory gives Slater 51 wins – including a forfeit by Miles – in five seasons as coach of the Golden Tigers
"It's awesome,'' Slater said. "That is absolutely unbelievable. I've been blessed. I don't know any other words for it. I hope we can keep it going. We've got to get better. We've got to upgrade to hang in there with Albany State and Fort Valley State.''
The Golden Tigers lose 18 seniors from this year's squad that tied Morehouse and Fort Valley State for second place in the SIAC behind Albany State.
"That was our first recruiting class,'' Slater said. "That means they hung around and they're going to get their degrees. That's great.''
Junior defensive lineman Christopher Williams was named the game's defensive MVP and senior quarterback Joshua Harris offensive MVP.