Albany State senior running back Nathan Hoyte, playing in his final Homecoming game, dives across the goal line for a touchdown Saturday during the Rams’ 36-9 rout of Clark Atlanta. Hoyte finished with 82 yards on the ground as Albany State won its fourth game in a row. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
ALBANY— It took awhile, but once the Albany State football team seized control of Saturday’s Homecoming game against Clark Atlanta, they never let go.
The Rams came back home from a three-game road trip in style and never let off the gas in the 36-9 victory.
Not even on the last play.
Junior defensive back Quintory Braswell put the exclamation point on a dominating Albany State performance with a 105-yard interception return for a touchdown as time expired, a play that is likely the longest in the history of the program.
“It had to be a record,” ASU coach Mike White said.
Nobody was catching Braswell, and it looks like nobody is catching the Rams, who have won four games in a row and are in control of their own destiny in the conference’s East Division with two weeks left in the regular season.
ASU (5-3, 4-1) had the game locked up long before Braswell picked off Clark Atlanta quarterback Charles King and broke free down the Rams’ sideline for the final touchdown, but that didn’t stop the backup defensive back.
Braswell didn’t stop until he crossed the goal line untouched by the Panthers.
“He’s tired. He said he was going to go lay down after the run,” senior defensive lineman Justin Blash joked. “I don’t know the history that deep, but I told him that was probably a record at Albany State.”
It took nearly 27 minutes for either team to score, but ASU kicker Dillan Fontaine finally broke the ice with a 38-yard field goal with 3:09 left in the first half.
After that, it was all ASU.
“Once we get going, it’s hard for us to stop,” Camilla native and ASU receiver Jessie Atkins said. “And we just got on a roll.”
The Rams scored once more before halftime on a 1-yard Nathan Hoyte run and then got in the end zone on their opening drive of the second half on a 1-yard run by quarterback David Kooi. Both touchdowns were set up by long catches inside the 10-yard line by Atkins, who led the Rams in receiving with six receptions for 67 yards.
Fontaine kicked two more field goals, and the Rams scored two more TDs to pull away for their most lopsided win of the season.
“We knew this was Homecoming, and to come out and not start off well was not a good sign for us,” White said. “We warned them before the game that we didn’t think they were ready. But I was glad we pulled it out.”
It was ASU’s 11th win in a row against the Panthers, who have lost five of their last six games and continue to struggle on the offensive side of the ball. They got a late touchdown on a Joshua Andrews 10-yard run in the fourth quarter, but it wasn’t enough to raise the Panthers’ average of 11 points per game, which was second to last in the nation entering the game.
Clark Atlanta coach Daryl McNeill said his team’s talent wasn’t the problem Saturday.
“They didn’t beat us, we beat ourselves,” McNeill said. “They weren’t a better team than us (Saturday). (Albany State) isn’t that good of a football team. We have 42 players and 22 scholarships — you do the math. We out-coach anybody in this conference. We just don’t have the numbers to compete.”
While the Panthers (2-6, 2-4) are now statistically eliminated from the race for the East Division title, ASU is tied for the top spot with Fort Valley State, setting up a possible winner-take-all game between the rivals Nov. 3 in the Fountain City Classic.
The Rams have come a long way from the team that opened up conference play with a 41-6 loss to Miles and was mired in the program’s worst losing streak in a decade.
“We are playing way better,” Atkins said. “We have more chemistry as a team, and we are bonding together. The defense is coming together, and the offense is coming together. Things are really starting to click.”
After the sluggish first half, everything was clicking for the Rams.
Hoyte finished the game with 20 carries for 82 yards and a touchdown, while senior Richard Watson, who had 35 rushing yards on eight carries, got in the end zone in the fourth quarter on a 3-yard run. Kooi was 16-for-25 for 160 yards and increased his streak of games without an interception to four. Fontaine was 3-for-3 on field goal attempts, and Orion Ponder caught three passes for 41 yards.
Marcavius Dudley led the defense with nine tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack, while Dexter Moody had his national-best seventh interception of the season, and Blash and Albany native Chavius Jackson recovered fumbles.
It was the first time this season Albany State’s defense had given up fewer than 10 points, but White said there was still room for improvement.
“We just have to play better,” White said. “I think we made some mistakes inside on the run game and allowed a couple of passes that we shouldn’t have allowed. We are working. We are glad we had a better second half than we played the first half. We still need to keep getting better for next week.”
ASU next plays again Saturday in Augusta against Benedict before closing out the regular season against Fort Valley State.