SIAC CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW: Rams head to Atlanta for high-stakes showdown with Golden Bears

Albany State first-year offensive coordinator Uyl Joyner and the Rams put together one heck of a game plan this week to ensure they come home with the SIAC Championship. (joe.bellacomo@albanyherald.com)

Albany State first-year offensive coordinator Uyl Joyner and the Rams put together one heck of a game plan this week to ensure they come home with the SIAC Championship. (joe.bellacomo@albanyherald.com)

ATLANTA -- So much is on the line today when Albany State and Miles hook up for the inaugural SIAC Championship game in Atlanta.

There's a potential Division II playoff spot that the Rams are trying to secure. There's bragging rights between the East Division champion Rams and the West Division champion Golden Bears.

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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. today.

WHERE: Atlanta.

RADIO: 98.1 FM.

FOLLOW ONLINE: Get live updates at twitter.com/AlbHeraldSports.

But more than anything, ASU coach Mike White said his team just wants another ring.

"Winning the conference means a lot to all of us," White said. "That ring and being back-to-back champs would mean a lot to us."

It would also mean a lot to Miles (6-4), which has never won the SIAC title in its program's history.

The Golden Bears not only want to knock off the Rams (8-2), who need a win to have any chance of qualifying for the postseason, but they would love to avenge their loss in the two teams' regular-season meeting won by ASU, 34-27.

"We talked about David and Goliath," Miles coach Reginald Ruffin told the Birmingham (Ala.) News. "We already told (our players) they're bigger, they're a huge team. We talk about it doesn't measure the heart of a champion because someone is big. So we need to make sure we chop trees. When you chop trees the bigger you hit, the harder they fall."

Albany State is a pretty big tree this year, but the Golden Bears have a pretty lethal axe in running back Jordan Lewis.

In the team's first matchup on Sept. 24, Lewis scorched the Rams for 121 total yards -- rushing and receiving -- and three touchdowns. Albany State came from behind to win that game, but White is still concerned about Miles' junior running back, who has rushed for 813 yards and seven TDs this season.

"He is the guy you have to stop. The quarterback (David Thomas) is very accurate, but we have to slow the running game down," White said. "He is a very patient runner, and the offensive line does a good job. He finds whatever hole they open up and he hits it."

While Lewis has been making the Golden Bears click and has led his team to five straight wins before a 27-25 loss to Tuskegee last week, ASU quarterback Stanley Jennings has been the constant leader for the Rams.

He threw for three touchdowns and 271 yards against Miles in that regular-season win, so Ruffin knows all about the senior quarterback and 2010 SIAC MVP, who was named the SIAC's 2011 Offensive Player of the Year on Friday.

"He's throwing, he's running, he's scoring touchdowns," Ruffin said. "Stanley does everything for Albany State's offense. He makes the throws, he makes the runs, he gets outside the pocket, he makes everything happen for their offense. He's the Michael Vick of Albany State."

However, on Thursday, White said he thinks today's game will be decided by the running backs.

"The key is for us to get our running game going and to slow Lewis down," White said. "We have to stop their running backs. I think that's the key."

While Lewis gets nearly every carry for the Golden Bears, the Rams have a small army in their backfield. ASU splits carries between Nathan Hoyte, Darryl Carey, Luther Edwards and Adrian Alexander, who have all led the team in rushing in at least one game this season. Throw in Jennings' ability to scramble, and the Rams are capable of hurting teams on the ground, which compliments a passing attack that has thrived the last two seasons under Jennings.

The ASU running game might have come on slow this year and was ranked sixth in the conference after the Rams' shocking midseason loss to Lane, but the Rams are 4-0 since and have crept up to No. 4 in the SIAC in rushing. Edwards talked this week at practice about how far the Rams have come since that loss to Lane.

"We made a promise to ourselves that we would let that week go and come back and work hard to get here," Edwards said. "Now that we are here, it really feels good."

It will feel even better if the Rams walk away with their second straight SIAC title and sixth in the last decade. It would also go a long way toward putting ASU in the playoffs for the eighth consecutive season.

But right now, all White and the Rams are thinking about is another conference ring.

"We feel like our season is over if we don't play well (today)," White said. "You don't get more pressure than that."