Rams coach Mike White shows his displeasure during the first half against VSU, which jumped out to a 20-6 lead en route to a 30-27 win.
ALBANY -- Albany State's football season is hanging in the balance.
Somewhere above ASU Coliseum -- where the Rams' season will either be rejuvenated or deflated today -- it's there.
Now it's just up to the Rams to seize the opportunity and breathe new life into a season that is on the brink of gasping for air.
Today's season-defining game against Morehouse College is either going to be pure euphoria or utter disappointment.
There is no middle ground in this one. There is no tomorrow. If the Rams want to repeat as SIAC Champions, they will need to go through Morehouse -- arguably the hottest team in the conference this season with one of the most explosive offenses.
ASU coach Mike White has been imploring his defense to rise to the occasion all season.
Now is their chance.
"This is the conference championship," White said. "We gotta win this game. Nothing else can be said. We gotta have our best game that we have played all year on both sides of the football. (Morehouse) is playing very good football, and we are going to have to play extremely well to win."
Morehouse (5-1, 3-0 SIAC) and Albany State (4-2, 2-1) are undoubtedly the top teams in the SIAC East Division. And with the regular-season champion of the East Division advancing to the inaugural SIAC Championship game next month in Atlanta, this is a must-win for both.
Morehouse is 1-0 against East Division foes, while today's game is the first against a divisional opponent for the Rams, who are ending the regular season with four straight divisional games.
White said the Rams can still advance to the Division II playoffs with a loss --- though it would be more difficult. A loss, however, also wouldn't statistically eliminate the Rams from the SIAC Championship, but it would make a trip to the conference title game nearly impossible. They would need Morehouse to lose their final two East Division games against Fort Valley State and Benedict College, which have a combined record of 2-10.
ASU quarterback Stanley Jennings understands the importance of today's game and knows his senior season could be defined by it.
"If we win this game, it should be a straight shot from there," Jennings said, referring to ASU's final games of the season, which include three teams with a combined record of 3-14. "I'm not trying to end my season early, so everything will be on the line."
Morehouse's only loss this season was a 30-27 setback against Division I Howard University in a game played in Washington, D.C. The Maroon Tigers won close games against Lane College and Tuskegee University and have rolled over the rest of their opponents, thanks in large part to junior running back David Carter, who is averaging 131 yards per game and 6.7 yards per carry.
The 5-foot-10, 225-pound back from Marietta has eight touchdowns this season and is unlike any runner the Rams have faced this season.
"The No. 1 thing for us is to slow him down," White said. "He will be the best back we will face all year."
But Carter has faced few rush defenses as capable as Albany State this season. While the Rams have been getting torched in the secondary all year and have had trouble containing mobile quarterbacks, opposing running backs have found little success.
In the Rams' six games, starting running backs have averaged just 23.8 yards per game and 2.6 yards per carry. The only rushers who have gone for more than 60 yards in a game against the Rams are Lane QB McKinsley Marbury (142 yards) and Wingate QB Andrew Nallenweg (62 yards).
The Rams are allowing just 85 rushing yards per game, which is good enough for 12th in the nation and first in the conference. Before Marbury scrambled all over the field against ASU last week, the Rams had the sixth-best rush defense in the nation.
Both Carter and Morehouse quarterback Byron Ingram also excel on a zone read play where Ingram, a 6-foot-5, 220-pound junior, can either hand the ball off or keep it himself.
"(Morehouse) is playing good, all around ball right now," White said. "They don't show a lot of weaknesses. I shouldn't even say a lot of weaknesses. They haven't shown any weaknesses."
Jennings called last year's thrilling and controversial 13-12 win against Morehouse one of the most intense games of the season when Jennings found former ASU receiver Ronnie Childs in the end zone with 18 seconds left on a fourth-down play Morehouse fans and coaches contend to this day shouldn't have been ruled a catch. White said he expects Morehouse to bring that same intensity into ASU Coliseum today.
"We just have to find a way to match that," White said. "Our guys understand (what is at stake), and I think we (have gotten) their best effort this week. They have worked extremely hard and have been encouraging each other."
ASU starting running back Nathan Hoyte said it's all about setting the tone early and making Morehouse rise to the Rams' play.
"If anything, we are going to want them to match our intensity," Hoyte said. "We are going to be amped up and ready for the game, and I think we are going to be ready to go."
The Rams own a 22-7 record against Morehouse in the 30-year history of the series, while under White, ASU is 8-3 against the Maroon Tigers.