The Albany State marching band celebrates in the stands after a touchdown Saturday by the Rams, who raced out to a 31-0 lead against Benedict and never looked back. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
ALBANY -- One win away.
Albany State's 37-13 Homecoming victory against Benedict on Saturday has the Rams one win away from an SIAC East Division Championship.
One win away from extending their season.
One win away from Rams coach Mike White getting a Gatorade bath.
On Saturday, ASU defensive leader Justin Blash almost jumped the gun on that Gatorade bath.
"I was standing beside (White at the end of the game), and I was acting like somebody was getting ready to hit coach White with the Gatorade," said Blash, a 320-pound defensive tackle. "I said, 'Watch out, they have the Gatorade!' He tensed up for it. But I was just playing."
Blash may have been joking at the end of the game, but the No. 22 nationally ranked Rams were all business early in the game Saturday. They held Benedict to zero offensive yards in the first half and scored about every way possible to take an insurmountable 31-0 lead into intermission.
Even though the Rams (7-2, 5-1) came out with little intensity in the second half and were outscored by Benedict (2-7, 1-5) 13-6 in the last two quarters, ASU was able to cruise to their third straight win and move one game closer to clinching a spot in the inaugural SIAC title game.
That inaugural game will be played in Atlanta on Nov. 12 against West Division champion Miles.
An ASU win in its regular-season finale next week against Fort Valley State or a Morehouse loss against Kentucky State would give the Rams an SIAC East Division title.
"Mike White has these guys going," Benedict coach James Woody said. "He has them going in the right direction these last three weeks. They have been playing some good defense, and (Saturday) in the first half they showed that they can be a championship football team."
ASU's first three-game winning streak of the season was made possible by a well-rounded attack in the first half. The "Dirty Blue" held Morehouse to one first down and zero yards (26 positive passing yards and 26 negative running yards) and had eight tackles for a loss and three sacks. Four minutes into the game, ASU defensive tackle Antorio Wells also had a sack and forced fumble that was recovered by junior Demonte Queen.
"I saw an opening, so I took the gap. I just hit him," Wells said about his sack and forced fumble.
Wells then added that the Rams have been "on a mission" the last three weeks to secure a berth in the SIAC title game.
"We are always on a mission," Wells said. "We practiced hard this week and prepared for this, and we aren't taking anything for granted. We are determined. We are coming out to work, run, whatever we need to do."
The offense and special teams also got it done in the first half. Five minutes into the game, Orion Ponder slipped through a pair of Benedict tacklers and returned a punt 53 yards for his second kick return for a touchdown this season.
Brandon Hamilton, who had a career-high four field goals last week against Clark Atlanta, then nailed a season-long 40-yard field goal after Wells' sack to give the Rams a 10-0 lead.
Shortly after, running back Luther Edwards galloped in for a 9-yard touchdown run, and Ronnie Tubbs caught two TD passes from Stanley Jennings in the final 2:20 of the half, including a 12-yard pass with 13 seconds left that Tubbs snagged despite being held on the play
"What was going through my head was (receivers) coach (Anthony Kelly) telling me to attack the ball," said Tubbs, who finished with six catches for 102 yards and two TDs.
Defensive pass interference was called on the play, but Tubbs held on nevertheless, capping an 81-yard drive that took just 1:28.
"We do (a two-minute drill) every day in practice," said Jennings, who finished 19-for-34 for 277 yards passing with two TDs. "When the whole offense is clicking, nobody should be able to stop us in a two-minute drill. We go against our defense every day, and they aren't bad themselves."
The offense just wasn't making many mistakes in its highest-scoring half of the season. Jennings opened up the game with an interception in the end zone. But after the game, Jennings said that interception was a fluke mistake.
"To be honest, my shoulder pads were too small," said Jennings, who changed into correct sized shoulder pads after the interception. "I left mine in the locker room so I had to borrow some from (receiver Jamel Mitchum), and they were too small.
"I couldn't throw the ball. Mark (Bell) was wide open. That's my fault."
But when the Rams came out of the locker room, it looked as if they were already preparing for next Saturday's Fountain City Classic in Columbus against Fort Valley State.
With 8:30 left in the third quarter, Ponder muffed a punt return, which was recovered by Benedict. On the ensuing play, Tigers RB Thomas McBride got his team's first touchdown on a 10-yard run. Albany State's next two possessions were three-and-outs, followed by a fumble by Adrian Alexander, which was returned 53 yards for a touchdown by Benedict's Anthony Davis.
Needless to say, White wasn't happy with his team's performance in the third quarter.
"We said at halftime we couldn't come out flat," White said. "That was the only way they would be able to get back into the game. I thought we came out very flat.
"I'm still hollering the same thing (about the defense). We are getting better (but) we still are not executing. We have some flaws that Benedict just wasn't able to take advantage of. We got away with some things (Saturday)."
The only positive to come out of the third quarter was a Rashad McRae interception -- his team-high fifth of the season.
The Rams woke up in the fourth quarter, holding the Tigers to 14 yards in the period and scoring on a 1-yard TD run by Nathan Hoyte, who finished the game with a season-high 118 rushing yards.
Sophomore Marcavius Dudley also got his first-career interception with 1:38 left in the game.
"We played with energy," Blash said. "We didn't have much energy in the third quarter. I don't know, I guess we thought we had already won. We picked it up in the fourth quarter. We just have to keep our energy up the whole game."
After being reminded that his team was one win away from clinching a berth in the SIAC Championship game, Blash said he may just want to hold off on the celebration.
That is, until the Rams win their second consecutive title.
"We're going to wait till Nov. 12 (for that Gatorade bath)," Blash said with a smile.