A host of jubilant Rams players rush onto the field last November in Columbus after the Albany State defense kept Fort Valley out of the end zone on the final play of the Fountain City Classic to not only win the SIAC Championship, but cap an undefeated 10-0 regular season. The teams meet for the 22nd time in the rivalry’s history Saturday. (Columbus Ledger Enquirer/Special to The Herald)
ALBANY -- Fort Valley State and Albany State are exact opposites this season in the record books, but those records get erased in the annual Fountain City Classic.
The Rams, at 7-2 with a playoff spot hanging in the balance, have everything to play for, while an injury-riddled Wildcats team has struggled to a 2-7 record. Open the trash can lid and throw it all away when these two meet in Columbus Saturday at 2 p.m., ASU head coach Mike White said Tuesday at practice.
"For guys who have been around (the rivalry), we know not to focus on records," White said. "They're going to throw everything at us. For us, this is our rivalry."
WHO: Fort Valley St. (2-7, 2-4 SIAC) at Albany State (7-2, 5-1 SIAC).
WHAT: 22nd Fountain City Classic.
WHEN: 2 p.m. Saturday.
RADIO: 98.1 FM.
FOLLOW ONLINE: Live updates at: twitter.com/AlbHeraldSports.
White compares the rivalry between ASU and FVSU to that of Auburn and Alabama, brother versus brother in a war between neighbors. Saturday's meeting will be the 22nd held in Columbus.
For defensive back Brandon Brown, who played his high school football at Northside-Warner Robins just down the road from Fort Valley, this game is special. He either played football with or knows nearly a quarter of the Wildcats' roster.
Brown said he'll have "a lot" of family traveling to Columbus to watch the game, the first one he'll play in after injuring his knee last season.
Senior safety Jamarkus Gaskins said the rivalry is so great because of the atmosphere created by each school's fan base.
"When you make a big play, the crowd lets you know, and when they make a big play, you hear it from the crowd, too," Gaskins said.
BUTTING HEADS: ASU and FVSU, separated by less than two hours of interstate, constantly run into each other on the recruiting trail. Brown, defensive back Gary Howard (Northeast High, Macon), running back Adrian Alexander (Southwest High, Macon) and kicker Tory Torstenson (Mary Persons High, Juliette) are all from the Macon area.
Brown was getting attention from larger Division I schools his senior year, but fell a few credits short and came to Albany State, which had recruited him early in the process. Fort Valley never recruited him, he said.
"A lot of players I knew went there," Brown said.
Brown recalled going to a few Peach County games growing up and seeing former Trojans star Chris Slaughter, who played at Auburn before transferring to FVSU. Saturday, Brown will go head-to-head at times with Slaughter, Fort Valley's star receiver.
"I remember going to the games that he played in and he had a lot of highlights," said Brown, a sophomore who was younger than Slaughter and former Peach County/current Fort Valley quarterback Antonio Henton, who went to Ohio State and then Georgia Southern before settling in at Fort Valley this season as a junior despite missing several games with a knee injury.
White also knows several of the FVSU players from the recruiting trail.
"Very seldom do you recruit a kid that Fort Valley is not also trying to get," White said. "We're always trying to win that recruiting battle. They got guys on their team that we liked, and we've got guys on our team that they wanted."
SAFETY BLITZ: Oddly enough, a safety is leading Albany State in sacks this season. Gaskins' 7.5 sacks is a credit to the Rams' defensive line, which eats up blocks in pass protection and allows him to use his speed off the edge.
"It's the D-line," Gaskins said. "Those boys demand double teams. I'm just coming off the edge using speed. If you jump out on me then they're going to get the sack."
White said Gaskins isn't always a safety, though. He played one quarter last week as a defensive back and the final three quarters at outside linebacker.
"We usually just turn him loose," White said. "That's really the way we utilize him. He's such a ball hawk. It's unbelievable that he has as many sacks as he has because he really hasn't played but four games down there (rushing the passer)."
INJURY UPDATE: The Rams don't know if receiver Janell Jones will be available as a route-runner Saturday after he was injured last week. Jones suffered a rotator cuff injury and may not play any on offense. He's also ASU's holder on kicks and could be available to hold if the injury is better by game time.
VOTE FOR JENNINGS: Albany State quarterback Stanley Jennings is a nominee for the national football fan poll award, presented by The Heritage Sports Radio Network. Jennings was selected as one of four nominees for HSRN's Division II National Player of the Week award after leading the Golden Rams to an impressive 37-13 Homecoming victory against the Benedict College Tigers on Saturday at the ASU Coliseum.
The senior from Marietta threw for 277 yards and completed 19-of-34 passes, including touchdown passes of 21 and 12 yards. Jennings led the Rams to 465 yards of total offense.
HSRN honors the top performances on the gridiron for Division I FCS and Division II each week. To add to the excitement, fans across the country can be a part of the action by casting votes for the player they think had the top performance in HBCU football. Fans can cast their votes for Jennings by visiting www.HSRN.com. Voting will be available on the HSRN.com home page until today at noon.
In addition to the Albany State star quarterback, other Division II nominees this week are Jerrel Noland, quarterback at Kentucky State University; Brian Richards, a receiver at St. Augustine's; and Colon Bailey, a running back at Fayetteville State University.
MOREHOUSE'S CARTER, WHO ASU SHUT DOWN, SETS D-II'S SINGLE-GAME RUSHING RECORD: Morehouse running back David Carter broke an NCAA Division II record for rushing yards in one half in the Maroon Tigers' 49-12 win against Fort Valley State on Saturday.
The junior from Marietta rushed for 251 yards in the first half and 351 yards in the game, but just three weeks ago the 220-pound running back was nearly shut down against Albany State.
The Rams, who are second in the nation in rush defense, held Carter to 45 yards on 20 carries on Oct. 15. The only other time Carter had been held under 100 yards rushing this season was a 99-yard performance against Tuskegee.
Carter is averaging 144 yards per game and already has 1,295 yards and 16 touchdowns this season.
But against an ASU defense that allows just 66 rushing yards per game, he went nowhere. Before that Oct. 15 game, which ASU won, 25-15, White said, "The No. 1 thing for us is to slow (Carter) down. He will be the best back we will face all year."
The previous record for rushing yards in one half was 229 yards, which was set by another SIAC running back, Alvon Brown of Kentucky State University. Brown set the mark on Sept. 16, 2000, against Kentucky Wesleyan.
Carter shattered the Morehouse single-game rushing record of 242 yards, set by John David Washington in 2003 against Johnson C. Smith University.
Herald staff writer John Millikan contributed to this report