Miles College football players spill onto the field in celebration as a lone ASU player lays with his head face down in the turf after losing to the Golden Bears, 20-17, on Saturday in the inaugural SIAC Championship game in Atlanta. (Eric Tabor/Special to The Herald)
ATLANTA — One second, the Albany State Rams were having thoughts of kissing the inaugural SIAC Championship game trophy.
Then with one wobbly, 29-yard field goal by Miles’ Patton Chambers with nine seconds left, the Rams were kissing that trophy — and likely their playoff hopes — goodbye.
And just like that, the regular season came to a crashing end.
Repeating as SIAC champs, those shiny title rings — they both disappeared in Saturday evening’s game at Panther stadium in Atlanta.
The field goal gave Miles a 20-17 win and all but ended any chances of the Rams getting an automatic bid to the Division II playoffs.
“It’s over,” said a teary-eyed Antorio Wells, whose four-year career as an ASU defensive lineman came to a sudden end.
His wasn’t the only one.
“It hasn’t hit home yet,” added senior Darryl Carey, who played the last three years in the Rams’ backfield. “We came here expecting to come out on top. We really aren’t used to losing, so it’s hard to have any feelings. We don’t know how to have this feeling.”
Earlier in the week, Miles coach Reginald Ruffin pegged the game between the East and West Division champs as a “David vs. Goliath” matchup. That low, line drive, game-winning kick ended up being the slingshot that brought down the defending SIAC champs, avenging the regular season loss when ASU beat host Miles, 34-27, on the road in Fairfield, Ala. The win also gave Miles its first SIAC title in its program history.
“It wasn’t the greatest kick, but there was a lot of pressure,” said Chambers, a sophomore who was lifted up on his teammates’ shoulders after the game. “Anytime when you are in a situation like that, the pressure is going to get to you. I didn’t care how I made it. I just wanted to make it.”
The Golden Bears’ win didn’t extend their season, but it likely ended Albany State’s.
The Rams sat at No. 7 in the NCAA Division II Super Region Two rankings, with the Top 6 getting automatic bids into the playoffs. No. 6 Valdosta State lost earlier in the day to No. 5 North Alabama, opening the door for the Rams to creep into the playoffs.
White said he wasn’t aware that Valdosta State had lost, but still didn’t want to rule out a playoff appearance until the final Super Region rankings were released considering there are two at-large bids given. If the Rams don’t make the playoffs, it would be the first time since 2003.
“I was looking forward to the playoffs,” ASU senior quarterback Stanley Jennings said. “Unfortunately it didn’t happen. I wish it would have. I think we would have had a strong chance of making a good run in the playoffs. I think we had that kind of team.”
ASU running back Nathan Hoyte, who led the Rams with 147 yards rushing on 21 carries, had a 2-yard rushing touchdown and punched in the ensuing 2-point conversion to tie the game at 17-17 with 13:26 left in the game.
Miles punted on its next drive, and the Rams retook possession with eight minutes left.
The Rams, behind a series of big runs from Hoyte, marched all the way into Miles territory. ASU got inside the Miles’ 20-yard line after a 5-yard rush by Jennings, giving the Rams a 3rd-and-2. But on third down, Hoyte was brought down in the backfield, setting up a 4th-and-4 from the 21-yard-line.
ASU kicker Brandon Hamilton, who entered the game 12-for-14 on field goal attempts, walked on the field for the go-ahead kick with 3:20 left in the game.
But Hamilton’s third miss of the year proved costly.
After the game, Jennings said he would have liked the Rams’ offense to stay on the field.
“It hurts knowing that we had a chance to go for it. We practice it every time. We were in fourth-down territory inside the 40-yard line,” Jennings said. “I think I caught a migraine just by yelling about going for it. We practice it every day.”
Jennings, the 2010 SIAC MVP who had 56 yards rushing up to that point, said he could have gotten the first down with his legs.
“We could have done a quarterback draw. Anything like that,” Jennings said. “Our running backs were running tough all game, so we could have got them with a little inside run. … It made me feel like there was no faith in the offense.”
However, White had confidence in Hamilton, a kicker who had been a huge factor in several of ASU’s wins throughout the season.
“We needed those three points,” White said. “He has had a good year kicking field goals, and we just thought that was the right thing.”
After the kick, Hamilton told his teammates that it felt perfect as soon as it left his foot. The high-arcing kick even looked like it was set to go straight through the uprights, and the Rams were already starting to celebrate on the sidelines.
But the celebration ended when the officials signaled that it was no good.
“I felt pretty confident about the kick, and went through my steps. I looked up, and I thought it was good,” Hamilton said. “I was about to walk off the field and get my kicking tee to go kick off. Then someone told me the refs said it was no good.
“We all have a lot of questions about that.”
White said he thought it was good as soon as it left Hamilton’s foot but he didn’t question the officials’ call.
“It didn’t (look like he missed it),” White said. “But the guys on the field didn’t say much (about the call being wrong). I actually turned away from it because he hit it real nice and every thing.”
The Golden Bears then got the ball on their own 21-yard line with just over three minutes left, and the rest is history.
“It was a tough loss,” White said. “We are proud of them. We win as a family and lose as a family.”
Miles scored first on a 29-yard pass from Thomas Davis to Antonio Pitts with four minutes left in the first quarter, and ASU got on the board with 49 seconds left in the quarter when Hamilton hit a 37-yard field goal.
The Rams took their only lead of the game when Mitchell County grad Jessie Atkins caught his fifth pass and first TD of his college career on a 21-yard pass from Jennings with 3:16 left in the first half. Tory Torstenson missed the extra point, but the Rams still took a 9-7 lead into halftime.
Two first-half turnovers by ASU — a Jennings interception in the end zone and an Adrian Alexander fumble — killed two long drives and gave Miles some momentum heading into the second half.
Thomas scored on a 6-yard run with nine minutes left in the third quarter to give the lead back to the Golden Bears, and Patton nailed a 34-yard field goal with 52 seconds left in the third quarter to up Miles’ lead to 17-9.
Jordan Lewis led Miles with 100 yards rushing, while Thomas had 46 yards rushing and was 13-for-23 passing for 158 yards.
Jennings threw for 126 yards on 11-of-23. Orion Ponder was ASU’s top receiver with 52 yards on five catches.