ASU's Jamarkus Gaskins (44) and the Rams thought they were done after Saturday's loss to Miles, but found out Sunday that they're headed to the Division II playoffs and will face North Greenville in the first round Saturday in South Carolina. (Reginald Christian/Albany State University)
ALBANY — Don’t call it a comeback.
Actually, go ahead and do just that.
The Albany State football team was still licking fresh wounds Sunday from a stunning 20-17 loss to Miles College in the inaugural SIAC Championship game Saturday in Atlanta when Rams coach Mike White received a phone call that proved to be the ultimate healer.
“I had been hearing conversations (even after the game Saturday) that we had a chance to get in (to the playoffs), then (Sunday) we found out we did,” White said with joy radiating in his voice. “You just never know how these things will work out.”
As it turned out — despite Rams players talking as if their season was over after Saturday’s defeat — it worked in ASU’s favor just when it seemed all hope was lost. And the result of the NCAA Division II selection committee’s decision Sunday — which gave the Rams an “earned access” bid after they failed to automatically qualify in the final Super Regional poll — brought Albany State into the postseason fold for the eighth straight year. However, the Rams — who finished unbeaten last year and received a first-round bye as a No. 1 seed — will have to travel 330 miles as a
No. 6 seed this time around to Tigerville, S.C., to face the No. 3-seeded North Greenville Crusaders, who moved to 8-2 two weeks ago with a dominating 54-7 win against Wingate.
Yes, that’s the same Wingate team that ASU beat, 49-28, in Week 2 of the season.
“It’s an interesting matchup, that’s for sure,” White said Sunday. “Just looking at that score against Wingate, they’re going to be tough to beat. They’ve been lighting up the scoreboard. Of course, in the playoffs, you just never know how you’ll match up with a team until you get on the field and play.”
It’s been a strange season for ASU with losses to lower-tiered SIAC opponents Lane and Miles and wins against Division I Savannah State and a near-win against perennial powerhouse Valdosta State, and the matchup with North Greenville — a program in just its 12th season in Division II and one of the only independent D-II programs in the nation that’s somewhat shrouded in mystery — will keep with the trend.
“I’m not familiar with them at all,” White said. “And when I learned they were independent, that was something new to me as well.”
What White does know about Greenville is that the Crusaders can score — and do so with ease.
Greenville wrapped up a 9-2 regular season over the weekend with a 62-0 romp of Notre Dame Military College, and the Crusaders’ QB — former Clemson star Willy Korn, who transferred this past offseason — threw up 279 yards passing and four touchdowns in the win.
“We’ve already talked about film exchange with them, and I’m looking forward to getting a look at this offense,” White said of the Crusaders, who ended the regular season on a seven-game winning streak. “I know one thing: They’re really playing well right now.”
Greenville’s only two losses came in Week 2 to Presbyterian (38-21) and in Week 4 to Mars Hill (38-28). Ironically, Mars Hill — the No. 2 playoff seed in the South Region bracket — is the team that the winner of ASU-Greenville will travel to face in North Carolina on Nov. 26.
Other playoff teams in the region include Delta State, West Alabama, and North Alabama. The winner of Super Region Two will advance to the semifinals on Dec. 10 with a berth to the national championship game on the line. The NCAA Division II National Championship game will take place December 17th at Braly Municipal Stadium in Florence, Ala., at 11 a.m. and will be televised live on ESPNU.
White, for one, is just glad his team is in the mix after Saturday’s stunning loss to Miles — a team the Rams beat at their place in Fairfield, Ala., earlier in the year, 34-27.
He said Sunday he wasn’t clear what the deciding factor was on being selected over such other contenders such as VSU (6-4) — which beat ASU, 30-27, in Week 4 in Albany — but he’s not questioning it.
“I’m not real sure what the deciding factor was other than we finished with an 8-3 record (and beat a Division I program in Savannah State in the season opener),” said White, whose program has reached the NCAA Division II postseason a total of 13 times, including eight in a row. “I also know we had some good wins and a good strength of schedule, and I think we got that earned-access spot because (the committee) looked at putting in a representative from our conference, so we moved to that spot.”
Miles, which won its first SIAC title in school history Saturday, likely wasn’t considered because it had four losses, nor was Morehouse, which had only two losses but one of those was against ASU.
The Rams, who take on their normal practice schedule this week and have an off day today, will get back on the field Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and leave for South Carolina on Friday, White said.
When asked if he knew how long a trip his team had in front of him, White just laughed, admitting he hadn’t even gotten that far in the planning yet.
“I’m not even sure,” he said. “Right now, I’m just glad we’re going.”
Herald College Writer John Millikan contributed to this report