ASU QB David Kooi had his best game of the season, throwing for 275 yards and three TDs in the Rams’ win.
MACON — Albany State’s Rams pulled out of Macon Saturday night headed for home and a brand new season.
Nobody looked in the rear view mirror.
It’s ugly back there — back when the Rams were looking for an identity. They found it Saturday.
They drove all the way to Albany in the fast lane. That’s where the Rams are now after ripping Lane, 36-14, Saturday at Henderson Stadium in the Music City Classic on a night when the music was as sweet as Ray Charles singing Georgia.
Two in a row, new life for the team from the Good Life City, the promise of tomorrow — and a whole lot more.
That’s what the Rams won on Saturday.
This game was music to their ears. Call it a song of redemption. They were singing it loud in the Music City Classic.
“There’s no looking back,’’ said ASU receiver Cessel Taylor, who caught two touchdown passes. “We’re looking straight ahead.”
It’s a season that suddenly has a future.
Two weeks ago the Rams were in such dire straits it looked like not even Dr. Oz could save them. Turns out, they saved themselves.
“Everybody knew in the back of their mind we had to win this game,’’ ASU coach Mike White said. “It was really important, no question about it. And this was the most complete game we’ve played this season — and they did it on both sides of the ball. It’s been a while.”
The timing couldn’t have been better. ASU (3-3 and 2-1 in the conference) had to win and can guarantee a trip to its second straight conference title game with four more wins to end the regular season.
“We all know what’s down the road,” White said. “But we can’t look down the road. We’ve got to win now.’’
That’s more than a slogan. It’s a way of life for the Rams.
“It was do-or die, and it will be do-or die next week,” said Nathan Hoyte, who rushed for 117 yards on 21 carries and scored the first touchdown of the game. ASU never trailed.
“It’s not more pressure because we have to win. We just want to win. We all came together (Saturday), and I have to give a shout out to my offensive line for the game I had.”
Everybody from Hoyt to QB David Kooi, who threw for a career-high 275 yards and three TDs, to defensive back Dexter Moody, who had bookend interceptions — one to set up ASU’s first TD and one to end Lane’s final drive of the night, had a big night. Moody even knocked out Lane QB Chris Rini with a hit in the second half.
Then there was Taylor, who had a career night.
“Cessel has been with us a long time, and this is his best game,” White said. “He came through for us.”
Taylor felt he needed the game of his life.
“I never had a three-catch game before,’’ said Taylor who caught three passes for 30 yards and two TDs. “I just decided to get focused. I know we had to win, and coach was talking this week about how we need leaders. I felt it was my time to step up and be a leader.“
There were plenty of leaders to go around on Saturday.
Ronnie Tubbs had four receptions for 73 yards and Camilla native Jessie Atkins had four for 69. Julian Bellinger made four grabs, including one for a 21-yard TD. Kooi spread the ball around, completing 19-of-34, and he also ran for 68 yards on nine carries and scored on a 10-yard TD run.
The Rams simply played well everywhere on the field.
“The secret is hard work,’’ Hoyte said. “And (even when we were 1-3) we believed in each other. We believe we can win and believe in each other and believe in the coaches.”
They believe, all right. That’s why ASU is so dangerous now.
“I said before that at the start of the season we were a little shaky,” Kooi said. “But we have gotten better and better every week. I’ve said all along that we are inches away from having a complete game, and we got better and better to get to this game.”
Just give these Rams a big game on a neutral field with a title draped over it. They found hope last week, beating Kentucky State at Soldier Field in Chicago in the Chicago Football Classic. That win saved the season. Saturday’s one-sided romp redefined it.
Sure, the Rams might need to run the table to reach the conference’s title game, but at least there’s a table and these new Rams, the same guys who lost three in a row for the first time since 2002, are running over teams.
Just ask Lane.
The Dragons had the tread marks.
Lane’s no-huddle offense looked good on the Dragons’ second possession, but after Rini’s 9-yard TD run that knotted it at 7-7 with 6:30 left in the first, it was no-huddle, no-problem for the Rams, who didn’t give up another point until there was 14:21 left in the game on a short run by Evan Yabu. By then ASU was leading 36-7 and looking for the road back to Albany.
The Rams are in the fast lane now, and showed just how fast they can play to close out the first half. After scoring twice in the first quarter on Hoyte’s 15-yard run, which came after an interception by Moody set ASU up at the Lane 47, and Kooi’s 10-yard run that gave ASU a 14-7 lead with 3:44 left, the Rams took the game over in the final minutes before the bands hit the field.
They drove 89 yards and scored when Kooi found Taylor, who split two defensive backs to make the catch in the right corner of the end zone with 3:00 left in the half. To appreciate the play, it came right after a 3-yard TD run by Hoyte had been wiped out with a penalty.
The Rams scored two TDs and picked up a pair of points with a safety, all in a span of two minutes and 41 seconds to all but put this one away.
The “Dirty Blue D” held Lane to (minus)-eight yards over that stretch and the offense played like there was no tomorrow — because there was none without a win on Saturday.
Lane lost two yards before punting to the Rams, who had to punt after a 12-yard sack backed them up to their 48. But Justin Keable dropped his punt at the 6-yard line, and on the first play, a group from ASU — led by Gary Howard — tackled Malcolm Morris in the end zone. Morris never had a chance. He turned to pivot and saw nothing but blue — a very Dirty shade of Blue.
Two points, and the first safety of the year for the Rams made it a 22-7 game with 1:30 left. Not much time for much more, but Atkins returned the free kick to the ASU 42, and Kooi, who saw his first pass dropped, completed a 21-yarder to Tubbs, who made a nice leaping reception to the Lane 37, and then found Atkins for 16 more to the 21, and then zipped a 21-yard TD pass to Bellinger for a 29-7 lead with 19 seconds left in the half.
Kooi and Taylor hooked up for their second TD with 2:54 left in the third — an 8-yard TD that gave ASU a 36-7 lead. That completion gave Kooi 275 yards in less than three quarters. Kooi’s best game of the year had been against Wingate when he threw for 234 yards. He had thrown for over 200 only twice before Saturday. He sat down and backups played the fourth quarter for ASU, which could finally take a deep breath with its first romp of the season.
“We knew we had to come out and play better,’’ Moody said. “We came out and jumped on them from the start to the finish.”
And now the Rams can see the finish line in the distance. They know what they have to do. Without talking about it, or singing about it, they know.
“We don’t have a lot of bullets in our gun,” White said. “We’ve got to shoot them — we’ve got to shoot them now.”