Golden Tigers tune-up for Homecoming, defeat Panthers 24-3


TUSKEGEE, Ala. – The Golden Tigers used a strong second-half performance to get back into the win column with a 24-3 SIAC victory Saturday against Clark Atlanta at Abbott Memorial Stadium.

The Golden Tigers (3-5, 3-3 SIAC) broke the game open with three second-half touchdowns after the score was tied 3-3 at the end of two quarters. Coach Willie Slater says the turnaround is an encouraging sign for his team’s final two games.

“We were able to run the ball outside a little bit better (in the second half),’’ Slater said, “and we made some adjustments to what we wanted the quarterback to do. That helped.  It gives us a little more hope (for the last two games). It gives the players more confidence.’’

The victory keeps alive the Golden Tigers’ chances of avoiding their first losing season since they were 5-6 in 2003. Their remaining games are against Miles Saturday for Homecoming and Alabama State in the Turkey Day Classic on Thanksgiving Day.

The Golden Tigers fell behind 3-0 in the first period when Kemuel Lawrence kicked a 50-yard field goal for Clark Atlanta (2-7, 1-5 SIAC). They tied the score in the second quarter on a 37-yard field goal by Eduardo Murillo. Kevin Phinazee recovered a fumbled punt return to set up the score.

Turnovers led to all three of the Golden Tigers’ second-half touchdowns. Tackle Adontavius Turner’s fumble recovery on the Panthers’ first possession of the third quarter led to the first touchdown, a 13-yard run by DeMario Pippen with 7:11 left in the period.

Reginald Davis recovered yet another Clark Atlanta fumble on a punt return late in the period and put the Golden Tigers in position to score again. This time Pippen got the touchdown on a 14-yard run.

“DeMario made some things happen,’’ Slater said.

Pippen led the running game with 94 yards on 11 carries. The Golden Tigers had 135 total yards rushing after only generating 81 in their 20-0 loss to Kentucky last week. Still Slater was not totally satisfied with the rushing attack.

“We didn’t run the ball inside,’’ he said. “We did a good job running outside. We want to be better balanced. You don’t want to be predictable.’’

The passing game continued to be erratic. Freshman Justin Nared made his sixth straight start. Junior Jeremy Williams, the starter at the beginning of the season, who returned to action against Kentucky State for the first time since he was injured on Sept. 17, replaced Nared in the second quarter, and both quarterbacks played in the second half.

“We were struggling,’’ Slater said. “The freshman was out of sync, so I put Jeremy out there. I was thinking about putting him in for the third series (in the first quarter). I felt we needed to get the freshman over and let him see what was going on.’’

Nared finished the game with 43 yards passing while completing seven of 17 attempts. Williams was 3-for-6 for 73 yards, and he threw one interception. Williams on his first play connected with Kaleep Williams for a 65-yard pass play that gave the Golden Tigers a first down on Clark Atlanta’s one-yard line. However, Jeremy Williams threw an interception in the end zone after the Golden Tigers were penalized five yards for a false start.

“He was a little skittish in the pocket, but I expected that,’’ Slater said of Jeremy Williams, adding that there is no quarterback controversy. “Justin is the starter. We’re going to do what we need to do to win. I will play (Williams) if I have to.’’

The Golden Tigers played well on defense – for the most part – the entire game. They made Clark Atlanta’s offense one dimensional by limiting the Panthers to just 72 rushing yards. Unable to move the ball on the ground, the Panthers attempted 43 passes and completed 20 of them, but they only gained 141 yards. The Golden Tigers sacked Clark Atlanta quarterbacks twice and came up with two interceptions.

“We had some problems in the first half with the quarterback getting out of the pocket,’’ Slater said. “We made some adjustments and made him throw down the field. They shouldn’t have scored.’’

Fittingly, the Golden Tigers’ defense was responsible for the final points. They came on Adam Lucas’ 89-yard interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.

The Golden Tigers are gearing up this week for what is certain to be an emotional Homecoming game against Miles, which clinched the SIAC West championship with a 9-7 victory against Stillman Thursday. Former Golden Tigers defensive coordinator Reginald Ruffin is in his first season as the Golden Bears’ head coach after spending the previous five years with the Golden Tigers. Ruffin and Slater have a lot of history together. They are from the same area, with Ruffin having grown up in Butler, Ala., and Slater in Coffeyville. Slater’s uncle taught Ruffin in high school

When Slater was an assistant coach at the University of North Alabama, he recruited Ruffin to play for the Lions. Ruffin went on to become a three-time All-American, twice at defensive end and once at linebacker, and he was the Gulf South Conference Freshman of the Year.

“It probably will be more emotional,’’ Slater said. “No question. I know how bad he wants to beat us. He will have all the advantages. He knows what we do. We beat them last year 51-0 and the year before. It’s going to take everything we’ve got to stay on the field with them. I know they’re the West Division champions. We’ll see.’’

The Golden Tigers hold a 43-12-1 advantage in the overall series between
Tuskegee and Miles.

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