Albany State RB Adrian Alexander (6), a true freshman from Macon, jogs into the end zone after scoring his third TD of the game Saturday during a 38-29 win against Fort Valley State as OL Victor Moli (66) celebrates the run. (Columbus Ledger Enquirer/Special to The Herald)
COLUMBUS — About the time Fort Valley State defenders were mocking Albany State quarterback Stanley Jennings and calling him soft, Rams coach Mike White said he was getting “worried.”
Trailing 14-0 midway through the second quarter and in need of a win to keep their season alive, the Rams were desperate for a spark.
Enter Adrian Alexander.
The freshman running back had three touchdowns to lead the Rams to a 38-29 victory against Fort Valley in Saturday’s Fountain City Classic in Columbus, sending ASU to next Saturday’s SIAC title game in Atlanta against Miles.
“This was the best game of my college life,” said Alexander, who went to Southwest Macon High School. “We had to come out as a team and make big plays. Big-time players make big-time plays.”
And Alexander certainly made his share.
Amazingly, he only ran the ball six times Saturday, but three of those trips ended in the end zone. His first score got ASU on the board. His second gave the Rams the lead. His third was just icing on the cake.
“(Alexander) has shown us nothing but jet-like quickness and a willingness to run the ball extremely hard,” said White, whose Rams (8-2, 6-1 SIAC) also finished the season as SIAC East Division champs for the first time in the new divisional format. “I am just glad he had a big day. What a great game to have a big day.”
But as big as Saturday’s victory was, the No. 21 nationally ranked Rams’ celebration was short-lived. Teetering on the edge of the NCAA Division II playoff picture, ASU — which entered the game ranked No. 7 in the all-important NCAA Division Super Regional poll that sends the Top 6 to the playoffs — will need a win in the inaugural SIAC title game to keep their season alive.
“Just because of what is coming next week, we gotta flip the switch and get right back on it (next Saturday) evening,” White said. “We gotta win next week and play better than we did (Saturday).”
Jenning’s sights are set even higher.
“I still feel like I haven’t accomplished anything yet,” said Jennings, who was 12-for-25 for 194 yards and two touchdowns. “My main goal is to try to win that national championship. We’re going to go into the SIAC Championship, come out with a win and keep playing.”
But Saturday didn’t start well for Jennings or the rest of his offense.
Jennings and receiver Orion Ponder each lost fumbles on ASU’s first two possessions. Ponder’s fumble took away a possible field goal attempt, and Jennings’ fumble was returned 10 yards by FVSU’s Calvin Jackson for the game’s opening touchdown.
The Rams’ offense came out running the ball against a Fort Valley defense that had given up 536 yards on the ground last week to Morehouse, but it didn’t go quite as offensive coordinator Uyl Joyner had planned. Though the Rams finished with 203 yards on the ground, they gained just 23 total yards in the first quarter and had no positive rushing yards on 10 attempts.
The Rams went three-and-out on their first possession of the second quarter, and Fort Valley marched down the field and scored on an Aaron Courtney 1-yard to take a 14-0 lead.
“I was worried big time,” White said. “I would be lying if I said I wasn’t (worrying). I thought for sure we could run the ball, and I didn’t think they would run it on us.
“I begged them. I begged them not to let this team to think that (Saturday) could be their day. If we get ahead of them, they would be ready to call it a year. But we had to do it the hard way.”
But Joyner had confidence in White’s “Dirty Blue” defense, which created two turnovers in the final eight minutes of the first half — a Gary Howard interception in the end zone and a Justin Blash sack and forced fumble, which Blash also recovered.
“I just knew our defense would hold them,” Joyner said. “We gave up that touchdown, and I knew if our defense kept holding them then we would be able to muster up some offense and put some points on the board.”
The Blash fumble recovery set up Alexander’s 12-yard rushing touchdown, which cut Fort Valley’s lead to 14-7. ASU kicker Brandon Hamilton then hit a 22-yard field goal as time expired in the first half, bringing the Rams to within four points at halftime.
Alexander opened up the scoring in the second half with a 69-yard touchdown run where he broke through the first wave of Fort Valley tacklers and outrun everyone else to the end zone.
“He brought a lot of excitement to the offense,” Jennings said about Alexander, who had just one touchdown and 121 yards this season entering Saturday’s game. “We already knew he had it in him. He is one of the fastest players I have seen in a while. Fort Valley’s defense was fast, so we needed to match that speed. He was a great person to go to at the time.”
After Alexander’s second TD, the Rams started pouring it on. Jennings hit Darius Nelson on a 4-yard TD pass, Brandon Hamilton kicked another 22-yard field goal, Ronnie Tubbs hauled in a 24-yard TD pass from Jennings and Alexander galloped in for a 15-yard run.
“That is how they have been playing all year,” said former ASU offensive coordinator and Fort Valley coach Donald Pittman, whose Wildcats finished the season 2-8 overall and 2-5 in the SIAC. “They have been in some close games, and they always find a way to win it.
“They found a way to win this one.”