After doubling up the score on their bitter archrivals in new digs amongst hostile territory, the Tuskegee Golden Tigers improved to 10-1 overall on the season after withstanding a late charge by the Alabama State Hornets (ending the season at 7-4 overall) to notch a 27-25 win in the first ever game played inside New ASU Stadium in Montgomery, Ala.
|Desmond Reece uses his upper body
strength to fight off two Alabama
State University defenders.
Tuskegee Head Coach Willie Slater said that his players weren’t feeling as much pressure as Alabama State was in order to get the win, because the onus was not on his team to christen the new facility, which had its’ grand opening during the 89th Annual Turkey Day Classic played on Thanksgiving.
“Obviously, the stadium is just a place to play for us,” Slater said. “It was more of a distraction for them to get that win than it ever was for us, so we played with the pressure off.”
Senior tailback Derrick Washington finished the game with 184 all-purpose yards, as the finalist for the Harlon Hill Trophy put on a showcase of his abilities in front of a national audience on ESPNU. The University of Missouri transfer had 95 rushing yards on 22 carries, averaging 4.3 yards per rush to go with a touchdown that he ran in from six yards out in the opening quarter. He also found Marquel Gardner on a 57-yard pass down the left sideline that would set up another Tuskegee touchdown pass later in the same drive. Washington also caught three receptions for 32 yards.
Gardner’s longest reception of the day came with Washington as temporary quarterback. He also had three additional grabs in the Hornets secondary for 149 receiving yards on the game, and a 40-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Justin Nared to give TU a 16-9 lead with 31 seconds until halftime.
Slater has continued to praise Gardner’s abilities as a wideout, and once again brought up the fact that the sophomore from Prichard, Ala. was not originally designated as a receiver.
“He’s been the difference for us all season long,” Slater said. “We didn’t have him lined up as a receiver against [Alabama] A&M (in the first game of the season), but the plays that he has made all year have been impressive.”
Slater noted that the lengthy pass wasn’t Washington’s first of the season, as he had threw for a touchdown in Tuskegee’s 49-18 victory over Fort Valley State played Sept. 29.
“Washington threw for a touchdown earlier against Fort Valley, so we wanted to dust the play off and see if we could get something going again,” Slater said. “They (ASU) made a conceited effort to limit Derrick’s touches on the day, but he was still able to get yards in one way or another.”
The pass from the tailback would lead to Tuskegee’s only touchdown of the second half, when Nared found Kaleep Williams on a 16-yard reception in the third quarter. Alabama State would rally late by limiting a Tuskegee drive deep inside the ASU red zone to a field goal, before responding with a 70-yard touchdown drive capped off by a one-yard touchdown run by Isaiah Crowell. But, a botched extra point attempt on ASU’s first touchdown of the game forced the Hornets to go for two points and the tie to stay alive. With just over two minutes remaining, cornerback Adam Lucas knocked the pass out of the back of the end zone, killing the comeback attempt.
This Saturday, the Golden Tigers play their final game of the 2012 season against Elizabeth City State University (based in North Carolina) in the 14th Annual Pioneer Bowl in Columbus, Ga. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:00 p.m. Eastern/12:00 p.m. (Noon) Central, and the game will be played at A.J. McClung Stadium, which the host stadium for the annual Tuskegee-Morehouse Classic. Tickets are just $18, and are available by calling (334) 727-8594 or (334) 727-8345.
The Vikings, led by Head Coach Waverly Tillar, finished first in the CIAA Northern Division and vied for the CIAA Championship title for the second consecutive year. Elizabeth City is currently 7-4 overall, and 6-1 in conference play. Rust from rest could play as a factor for ECSU, as they have not played in a game since the CIAA Championship that they lost Nov. 10 to Winston Salem State 34-19 in Durham, N.C.
“We are excited that Elizabeth City State University will represent the CIAA in the Pioneer Bowl,” said CIAA Commissioner Jacquie Carpenter. “Their tremendous season and record will bring forth great competition against Tuskegee, for the fans and the Columbus community.”
Slater said that the Pioneer Bowl could be the biggest mental hurdle for his team from an emotional standpoint.
“We had to get up, and devote a lot of focus to three games right in a row between Miles College, the SIAC Championship and the Turkey Day Classic,” Slater said. “It will be a huge challenge for us, as far as preparing for the game is concerned.”