When Albany State and Jamarkus Gaskins (44) went West to Fairfield, Ala., in late September, the Rams were 2-0 and admittedly looking ahead to the big game a week later against rival Valdosta State. It almost cost them against Miles, which led most of the game before ASU came alive late with a 34-27 win. (Birmingham (Ala.) News/Special to The Herald)
ALBANY -- The rematch. It's not something Albany State's had to face in the past.
The only time Rams head coach Mike White remembers ever playing a team twice in a season was that dreaded rematch in 2004 against Valdosta State in the quarterfinals of the Division II playoffs after ASU had beaten the Blazers in the season opener. But in the rematch, VSU came back to win the sequel, 38-24.
The Rams hope this Saturday's rematch with Miles College in the SIAC Championship will go differently. ASU (8-2, 6-1 SIAC), the East Division champs, beat West Division champ Miles (6-4, 5-2 SIAC) in the conference opener, 34-27, nearly two months ago.
WHO: Albany State (8-2, 6-1 SIAC) vs. Miles College (6-4, 5-2 SIAC).
WHAT: Inaugural SIAC Championship game, second meeting of season between Albany State and Miles.
WHEN: 3 p.m. Saturday.
RADIO: 98.1 FM.
Doing it again on a neutral field in Atlanta in the first-ever conference title game won't be easy.
"We beat them the first time, but it's always hard to beat somebody two times," Rams senior defensive lineman Justin Blash said. "Our defense didn't really start clicking until the last five weeks since the loss against Lane. I think we're better than we were (then)."
White readily admits he's aware that ASU would already have clinched its 14th SIAC title if not for the new title game format.
Instead, every team in the league had to clear the final week of the schedule for an extra game, one that has huge playoff implications for ASU.
"It's different because both of us have improved since we played each other," White said. "The personnel has changed. It'll be tough to beat them again. They're playing good."
The extra game is also tough on any team gearing up for a playoff run, like ASU hopes to be. Injuries have depleted the Rams' numbers this season and another game, particularly a conference championship, makes preparation during the week difficult.
"When our numbers get like they are now (because of injuries), there are certain things we can't do any more (at practice)," White said. "We've just got to walk and talk. We can't really go hard at it. It's hard to simulate that team speed. We just keep battling, (but) it hurt us trying to play on the big stage."
SCOREBOARD WATCHING: The Rams will have a keen eye on the Valdosta State-North Alabama game Saturday. Valdosta State, which has already beaten the Rams this season, is one spot ahead of ASU at No. 6 in the NCAA Division II Super Region Poll -- while the Rams are on the outside looking in at No. 7. Only the top six teams in the regional rankings make the playoffs.
A VSU win likely means the Blazers, who have one more loss than ASU, are in ahead of the Rams because of the win early in the season.
"If (VSU does) win, the head-to-head matchup is probably going to count more," White said Tuesday at practice. "We have to win to get in (regardless)."
A VSU loss would give the Blazers four losses and likely send them home for the playoffs and put ASU in with a win.
"They would have too many losses and we would come in front of them," White said.
Blash agreed, saying that despite the early loss to the Blazers, the voters "will look at who the better team is (now) based on (ASU's) record. Valdosta is a good team, don't get me wrong, but they caught us in the first five slump games."
Of course, a VSU win gives North Alabama, which is ranked No. 5 in the Super Region Two rankings, three losses and voters will have to choose between the Lions and Rams.
Stay tuned. This could get interesting.
ALEXANDER THE GREAT FRESHMAN: Rams' running back Adrian Alexander, who was considered fourth on the depth chart entering the season, was named Newcomer of the Week by the SIAC on Tuesday after running for nearly 20 yards a carry in ASU's 38-29 win against Fort Valley State Saturday. Alexander, a freshman from Macon just up the road from FVSU, scored three touchdowns on just six touches and finished with 110 yards to earn the honor.
"It was a breakout game for me," said Alexander, who added that he wasn't recruited by FVSU. "To be back (on the depth chart) and to come and get that award, it's a good little blessing for me."
Alexander graduated from Southwest Macon High School in 2009 after running for more than 2,200 yards and 27 touchdowns his senior season.
"He wants the ball more," White said. "He's been very patient as a freshman."
Other Rams who received honorable mentions Tuesday included: Blash (led defense with 8 tackles and shared a sack); OL Travis Walker (key anchor of the ASU "Gold Rush" offense, which amassed 362 yards of total offense); kicker Brandon Hamilton (scored six points for the Rams after kicking two 22-yard field goals).
INJURY UPDATE: White said senior defensive back Rashad McRae was held out of practice Tuesday because of bruised ribs. Running back Luther Edwards also didn't practice due to a sore knee. Both will be evaluated later in the week and should play Saturday, White said.