Albany State defensive back Gary Howard (23), intercepts a pass in front of teammate Jeremy Reynolds during ASU’s victory in Chicago against Kentucky State two weeks ago, which the Rams followed up with a win Saturday against Lane in the Music City Classic.
WHO: Albany State (3-3, 2-1) at Morehouse (2-4, 1-2)
WHAT: ASU’s fourth conference game of the season.
WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday.
RADIO: 98.1 FM.
LIVE UPDATES: Log onto: twitter.com/AlbHeraldSports.
ALBANY — It’s mid-season and Albany State is right where it needs to be — in control of its own destiny.
The Rams don’t have to sit around and wait for another team to lose or hope for a tiebreaker to win the conference’s East Division. All they have to do is win.
“Each week is going to have its own must-win scenario,” ASU head coach Mike White said after Tuesday’s practice.
ASU and Fort Valley State are tied atop the East Division standings in the loss column, each with just one loss, and a showdown is looming the last week of the regular season. The Rams begin division play this weekend at Morehouse College in Atlanta and the stakes are beginning to rise.
“(East Division games mean more) to a certain extent, yes, because they’re on our side,” Rams’ sophomore safety and former Monroe High star Larry Whifield said. “We’ve got to take care of business on our side.”
Win out and ASU is destined for at least a winner-take-all East Division game against Fort Valley on Nov. 3 in Columbus, assuming FVSU also wins out. To get there the Rams have to wade through a less-than-daunting schedule against Morehouse, Benedict and Clark Atlanta, which are a combined 3-15 on the season.
Plus, Fort Valley still has one of the West Division unbeatens, Stillman College, on the schedule and FVSU has already lost to another in Tuskegee College. ASU (3-3, 2-1) had to play only one of the 3-0 West Division teams and lost to Miles, 41-6, but the Rams don’t believe they received any kind of break from the league schedulers.
“We come to play hard with each team,” Whitfield said. “I don’t know anything about a break.”
White hasn’t noticed the disparity in records between the East and West Divisions, either. The West Division is 6-3 so far against the East and claims the top three teams in the conference as far as records go.
“I really don’t look at it,” White said. “I just stay focused on our guys and trying to get us to play better. We’re still turning the ball over too much for me. We’ve still got too many penalties. Those are the type of things you’re dealing with and trying to get better.”
This week’s opponent, Morehouse, lost to West Division co-leader Tuskegee Saturday, 21-14 — the same Tuskegee team that throttled East division leader Fort Valley State, 49-18. White expects a battle every week regardless of records.
“We’ve still got a long way to go,” he said. “We’re not back. We’ve just got to grind some wins out. I think that’s how it’s going to be the rest of the year.”
KOOI IN SYNC: After a few weeks of back-and-forth under center before the keys were handed over after an injury to backup Keenan Grissett, senior quarterback David Kooi found his rhythm in Saturday’s win over Lane College. Kooi completed 19-of-34 passes for a season-high 275 yards and three touchdowns and connected with a season-high seven different receivers.
A full week of preparation as the starter and more reps with his receivers looked like it may have paid dividends in the timing routes.
“He threw the ball extremely well,” White said. “He threw some curl routes that were right on the money, some timing routes where the receiver wasn’t out of his break and the ball was on its way. It just looked like the way you draw that play up. If there was one thing that was most impressive to me, that was it. I thought (Kooi) and the receivers had a lot better timing.”
GRISSETT OUT: White said Grissett, a transfer from Gardner Webb, didn’t practice Tuesday and would likely be out this week before returning next week against Clark Atlanta. Grissett injured his knee in a start against Kentucky State in Chicago, but the injury isn’t major and he is expected to miss only 1-2 weeks.
Safety and Albany native Chavius Jackson, defensive lineman Troy Morgan and linebacker Jaggar Buggs all missed last week with injuries and remained out of practice Tuesday. The status of all three will be determined later in the week.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK: ASU senior running back Nathan Hoyte and senior offensive lineman Darvel Nelson were honored by the conference Tuesday.
Hoyte was tabbed Offensive Player of the Week for the second time this season after running for 121 yards and two scores on 22 carries in Saturday’s 36-14 win over Lane. Hoyte is second in the conference with 94 yards rushing per game and is averaging 5.3 yards per carry with six touchdowns.
Nelson, a 6-foot-5, 325-pound left tackle from Franklin, was named Lineman of the Week after helping ASU amass 457 yards of total offense and finishing with a 91 percent grade on his blocking assignments against Lane.