Golden Tigers derail Wildcats for first win
FORT VALLEY, Ga. – Coach Willie Slater can finally exhale now that the Golden Tigers have their first victory of the season, an 18-15 SIAC win Saturday against Fort Valley State.
The Golden Tigers (1-3, 1-1 SIAC) had gotten off to their worst start since they began the 1995 season 0-7 and finished 2-9.
“It‘s a great relief,’’ Slater said of the victory. “We needed it desperately. We’re excited about this. But we’re still going through growing pains.’’
The victory keeps the Golden Tigers in striking distance of first-place Stillman (4-1, 3-0 SIAC) in the SIAC West championship race.
Freshman quarterback Justin Nared, making just his second college start, threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to Philander Browder with 6:22 left in the fourth quarter for the winning points after the Golden Tigers had fallen behind 15-10. Nared added a two-point conversion for the final margin.
Nared’s touchdown pass, his first as a Golden Tiger, culminated a six-play, 42-yard drive. The Golden Tigers’ defense, which has played well all season, set the stage for the winning drive. Cornerback Kenneth Baker intercepted Fort Valley State backup quarterback Jahyrie Harris’ pass with 8:42 remaining in the game. The Golden Tigers also recovered two fumbles.
The Golden Tigers’ defense yielded 338 total yards, 138 on the ground and 200 on passes. The bulk of the Wildcats’ passing yardage came on two plays, a 45-yard completion from Cameron Pearson, the Wildcats’ starting quarterback, to Chris Slaughter and a 58-yard throw from Harris to Slaughter. Neither play led to points for Fort Valley State.
Slater said one of the keys to the Golden Tigers’ defensive success against Fort Valley State was a more disciplined pass rush than they had in their 13-9 loss to Stillman in the previous game.
“We rushed the passer and controlled our rush lanes better,’’ he said. “The quarterback wasn’t able to run out of the pocket and get first downs.’’
Offensively, the Golden Tigers were turnover-free for the first time this season. The passing game remained unproductive as Nared completed just six of his 20 throws for 91 yards. In addition to his touchdown pass, Nared scored on a two-yard run in the second quarter that gave the Golden Tigers a 10-6 lead. Fort Valley State sacked Nared three times.
“He still made some young mistakes,’’ Slater said, assessing Nared’s performance. “But the glaring thing was he didn’t throw any interceptions and he didn’t put it on the ground.’’
The Golden Tigers compensated for their ineffective passing attack by rushing for 136 yards. DeMario Pippen led the ground game with 83 yards on 16 carries.
“We kept putting ourselves in a hole when we passed,’’ Slater said. “Every time we threw the ball, we got sacked. But we had to try to throw. When you get to be one dimensional, it’s going to be really difficult.’’
Fort Valley State took a 6-0 lead midway through the first quarter when Travis Richmond bolted 67 yards for a touchdown. The Golden Tigers counted with a 27-yard field goal by Eduardo Murillo with 9:45 left in the second quarter.
Even though the Golden Tigers didn’t produce big numbers throwing the ball, they were effective enough to keep Fort Valley State’s defense off balance. That enabled the running game to be productive, which in term allowed them to control the ball. The Golden Tigers had possession of the ball for 35 minutes and 49 seconds compared to 24:11 for Fort Valley State.
The Golden Tigers also won the field position battle thanks to the foot of punter Stewart Moody, which Slater says was instrumental in the win. Moody averaged 40.5 yards on 11 punts. Moody’s punting was particularly crucial in the third quarter when the Golden Tigers were going against the wind.
“He’s done a great job all year,’’ Slater said. “He’s one of the best that I’ve been around. He had the tail dragging; when the ball hit the ground it rolled down the field. Fort Valley State puts pressure on punters, and they’ve blocked a couple. They rushed him but they didn’t get to him. Football is all about field position. If you have good kicking game you can win a game by changing field position. That’s what happened tonight.’’
Derrick Minor led the Golden Tigers with eight tackles, followed by Baker and Kevin Phinazee with seven each in the contest. Jeremy Brown sacked Fort Valley State’s quarterbacks twice and El’Malik Chinn recovered a fumble and had a QB sack.
Next up for the Golden Tigers is Morehouse in Columbus, Ga. The Maroon Tigers (4-1, 2-0 SIAC) is tied for the East Division lead with Albany State.
“It doesn’t get any easier,’’ Slater said. “It’s out of the frying pan into the fire. I don’t know anything about them. But I know they’re good. It’s going to be a tough game for us.’’