Albany State running back Darryl Carey stares down the Wingate defense during the Rams’ 2011 home opener Saturday night. Carey and the Rams, who narrowly beat Wingate in last year’s playoffs, 30-28, manhandled the Bulldogs this time around, 49-28. (email@example.com)
ALBANY -- Wingate quarterback Cody Haffly walked into the Albany State University Coliseum on Saturday evening as one of the best quarterbacks in Division II.
He walked off the field in the shadow of Albany State's Stanley Jennings.
Jennings threw for four touchdowns and 307 yards as the seventh-ranked Rams won their home opener against No. 23 Wingate, 49-28.
"Quarterback Stanley Jennings is the best in the nation to me," said ASU receiver Ronnie Tubbs, who had three touchdowns and 136 yards receiving in the win. "We made a huge statement (Saturday night), and from here on out we have to."
ASU's statement win, which improved the Rams to 2-0 and dropped the Bulldogs to 0-2, comes against a Wingate team that nearly knocked off No. 14 Valdosta State last week. Valdosta State -- ASU's opponent next Saturday -- defeated Wingate in double overtime and then stayed unbeaten Saturday with a 24-17 win against Newberry.
Saturday's results set up a showdown between the Rams and the rival Blazers at 7 p.m., and Jennings said he is looking forward to the challenge of going up against a team that ASU is 1-8 against in the past 11 years.
"I'm excited about the win, but it's just another one down," Jennings said. "But we have another big one (coming) up. We are really going to have to focus all week (for Valdosta State)."
On Saturday, the Rams' focus was solely on Wingate, which fought ASU to the final minute in a second-round playoff game last year. The Rams prevailed in that playoff game, 30-28. On Saturday, Wingate coach Joe Reich said that this year's Albany State team may be better than last year's that finished 11-1 and as Black College National Champions.
"I think this team is (much) better balanced," Reich said. "I think they can throw the ball pretty effectively, and they can still run it. I think they are just as good if not better."
Wingate, which is the same team that took Valdosta State -- ASU's opponent next week -- to double overtime last weekend, is trounced Saturday night by the No. 7 nationally ranked Rams, 49-28, in their home opener as ASU moves to 2-0.
Last year, Haffly threw for 330 yards and three touchdowns in Wingate's narrow loss to the Rams. On Saturday, the ASU defense pressured Haffly and held him to 21-for-42 for 265 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.
Haffly started off the game 6-for-20. He picked up most of his yards, and all of his touchdowns, in the second half.
"That's as much to do with their defense as anything," Reich said. "They do a nice job of matching up underneath and do a great job of being physical with our receivers. We were just having trouble beating them."
ASU scored on its second possession of the game on a 13-play, 6:35 drive that was capped off by a Luther Edwards one-yard touchdown run. It was the most time-consuming drive of the game for the Rams, who struck quickly on most of their other drives.
Nathan Hoyte, who led ASU in rushing with 53 yards on 15 carries, scored on a two-yard run with 7:58 left in the second quarter, and Jennings threw a 20-yard pass to Octavius Staton with three minutes left in the half to give the Rams a 20-0 lead at intermission.
At halftime, Jennings already had 147 yards passing and was 10-for-21.
"My offensive line gave me enough time back there even though they were trying to blitz every down," Jennings said. "All I needed was a little bit of time and everything would fall into place."
Everything that wasn't falling into place was falling into the hands of Tubbs and Staton.
Tubbs and Jennings hooked up for three touchdowns in the second half, including a six-yard pass four minutes into the third quarter. Tubbs also caught a 28-yard touchdown pass with a minute left in the third quarter and a 53-yard touchdown pass with 12 minutes to go in the game.
Staton caught four passes for 87 yards, while Michael Nelson had four catches for 55 yards and Orion Ponder had 2 two receptions for 21 yards.
"(Jennings) played a great game," Reich said. "It surprised me. He is a great quarterback. Last year, I felt like he played OK against us. This year, I think he played really, really, really well against us."
ASU had an effective night on the ground, too. Behind Hoyte's 53 yards, Gary Howard broke open a 33-yard run on his only carry of the game, and Darryl Carey had 27 yards on 10 carries.
"They are a good football team," Reich said. "I was concerned they would line it up and run it down our throats, which they did pretty effectively for a time.
ASU's final touchdown came from a Jamarkus Gaskins fumble recovery. Gaskins, a safety and the team's leader on defense, picked up a Haffly fumble and ran it back 67 yards for the score. The defense, which allowed 34 points in the season opener against Savannah State but stood their ground Saturday, was led by former Monroe star Larry Whitfield, Gary Howard and Rashad McRae.
Whitfield had a team-high nine tackles and one sack, while Howard had seven tackles and McRae had six tackles, two tackles for a loss and two forced fumbles.
Also on defense, A.J. Cunningham returned an interception 40 yards, Antorio Wells hit the quarterback four times, Bruce Ryles recovered a fumble and Troy Morgan had a sack for seven yards.
"Defense was a lot better than last week. We had a lot of mental mistakes last week, and I thought the defense played a lot better overall," ASU head coach Mike White said. "We needed to play well because it was a playoff team and a playoff atmosphere."
But while ASU looked more polished on defense than it did in the season opener against Savannah State, but the Rams' kicking game still struggled at times.
With new punter and placekicker Luke Jones, a former Australian Rules footballer, on the sidelines after flying into the country Friday, Tory Torstenson and Brandon Hamilton resumed their roles in ASU's special teams, while Jones is expected to take over the job next week.
Torstenson hit a 22-yard field goal in the fourth quarter but only hit 4-of-7 extra points, while Hamilton recorded one touchback and averaged 59 yards per kick on his nine kickoffs.