Rams get shot to play in Atlanta after all

Photo by John Millikan

Photo by John Millikan

ALBANY -- Albany State Coliseum may sit about 170 miles south of Atlanta, but when the Rams step into Panther Stadium at Clark Atlanta University for Saturday's SIAC Championship game, it will feel like anything but a road game.

A quick glance into the stands, and it may even look like a home game for the SIAC East Division champion Rams, who will play West Division champion Miles in the league's first title game.

"You see the blue and gold in Atlanta when you go there," ASU coach Mike White said Wednesday.

White then added: "You see it pregame, postgame. Our band is there. It's very strong up in that area."

Even when the Rams play against Atlanta teams Clark Atlanta or Morehouse, White said the ASU alumni come out in full force and make away games feel like they are being played on a neutral site.

Take, for example, the email White received Wednesday that outlined the plans of an ASU alumni group that is set to welcome the Rams into Atlanta on Friday.

"We got an email about them wanting to come and put posters in the hotel to welcome us to Atlanta," White said. "That's something they normally do, but it lets the players know that this is much bigger than them."

Just a few months ago, White wasn't sure his Rams would even get to play in Atlanta this season. Clark Atlanta moved its Oct. 22 matchup with the Rams to Valdosta -- and then later changed it to Waycross for -- the annual "Battle in the Swamp Classic," far away from the state capital which houses one of the largest groups of ASU alumni in the state.

At the time, White said it would be the first season in more than 30 years that the Rams wouldn't play in Atlanta.

"It's not necessarily a good thing to me because we have a strong fan base in Atlanta, and we look forward to that trip every season," White told The Herald in June when the announcement was first made. "This will be the first time since I got here in 1975 we won't be playing a game in Atlanta, whether it's against Clark or Morehouse. It's disappointing for our alums up there."

White may have been disappointed six months ago, but Wednesday he said he "couldn't wait" to play in the SIAC Championship game. And the ASU alumni from Atlanta can't wait to watch the Rams play in a game that they have to win to have any chance of qualifying for the NCAA Division II playoffs.

"Everybody is excited about the opportunity to play for a championship," White said. "A lot of (the alumni) said they will be at the game Saturday."

ASU A.D. READY TO BRING SIAC TITLE HOME: It's East versus West on Saturday in the inaugural SIAC Championship game, which kicks off at 3 p.m. -- and ASU interim A.D. Richard H. Williams predicts a great championship game.

"The Golden Rams have an excellent fan base. Our fans are second to none. Miles fans always show their support for the Bears," Williams said. "Not only will this be an exciting rematch, but this game is historic because it is the first SIAC championship game and each school is hungry for the championship title."

Albany State will look to win its second consecutive SIAC title and sixth under White. The Golden Rams have won 14 SIAC titles since 1984, while Miles has yet to win a conference championship in football. The SIAC championship game will be the 47th meeting of the teams and the second meeting this season. The Rams and Bears met Sept. 24 with Albany State claiming a 34-27 victory over Miles at Sloan-Alumni Stadium in Fairfield, Ala.

Williams wants the win for more reasons than one.

"The Rams will need to win this game to stay alive in the hunt for a national championship. Right now, we are No. 7 in the region, so a loss would eliminate our chances of another playoff appearance," Williams said.

GET YOUR TICKETS NOW: Because of the implications of the championship game, Williams believes this will be one of the biggest games of the year.

"We are encouraging our fans to purchase their tickets here at Albany State. We expect that a big crowd will fill the stands at Panther Stadium and we want our fans to be there to witness this event," Williams said. "The Golden Ram fans are always ready for a great game, so get your tickets early."

The $20 tickets for the SIAC championship game are now on sale at the ASU business office only. No passes will be accepted for the game.

For more information, call the ASU athletics department or sports information office at (229) 430-4754 or (229) 430-4673.