Miles RB D.J. Fife ran all over Larry Whitfield (22) and the Rams on Saturday to the tune of a 41-6 rout. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
ALBANY — There were no big celebrations, no dancing on the field and jumping into teammates’ arms.
But there was one big similarity between last year’s conference championship game between Albany State and Miles and Saturday night’s rematch at Albany State Coliseum.
The Golden Rams walked off the field stunned.
“It’s really hard on us,” Albany State linebacker Larry Whitfield said after Miles routed the Rams, 41-6, on Saturday at ASU Coliseum. “Coming in, we had the mindset to win the game, but something’s going on. ... We just have to get it together.”
The loss, which was Albany State’s third in a row, dropped the Rams to 1-3 and seemed to drop their heads even lower.
“We just have to pull it together,” Albany State coach Mike White said. “In football, it happens. We just gotta find a way to put some points on the board and find a way to get some stops and play some better football.”
Miles (3-1) jumped ahead immediately in the conference opener, led 17-0 early in the second quarter and never looked back en route to its third straight victory. It was nothing like last year’s conference championship game when the two teams battled back and forth until Miles escaped with a 20-17 victory thanks to a last-second field goal.
The Golden Bears celebrated their title 10 months ago with an impromptu party, rushing the field as the final buzzer sounded and basking in an upset that only they saw coming.
Nobody was calling what happened Saturday night an upset.
No, the power in the conference has shifted to Birmingham, Ala.
“Anytime you can come into somebody else’s territory and have a game like we did (Saturday) night, it’s unbelievable,” Miles coach Reginald Ruffin said.
ASU had defeated Miles nine straight times before last year’s conference title game and held a 33-12-3 advantage in the 65-year history of the matchup heading into Saturday’s game.
History, however, didn’t help the Rams on the field.
“There’s really not much to say, other than the best team won,” White said. “They beat us very soundly, offensively, defensively and special teams.”
Miles came into the game averaging a conference-best 34 points per game and had little trouble moving the ball against ASU, racking up 420 total yards. Running back Floyd Graves led the way with 126 yards and a TD, while quarterback David Thomas was 14-for-24 for 219 yards and a TD.
Albany State’s offense simply couldn’t keep up.
The Rams, who started the game with five straight three-and-outs, had just 222 yards of total offense. Quarterback David Kooi was 11-for-23 for 85 yards and threw his fifth interception of the season, while starting running back Nathan Hoyte was held to 18 yards on 10 carries. ASU’s top receiver, Camilla native Jessie Atkins, had his worst outing of the season, catching one pass for 10 yards.
New starting kicker Dillan Fontaine prevented a Miles shutout with two field goals in the second quarter from 34- and 35-yards out.
“I don’t really want to talk about it until I watch film, and then we can really see what we are going to do about it,” Kooi said. “But we gotta take a step forward because we have a game next week, and it’s a must win.”
The Rams travel to Chicago next Saturday to face Kentucky State in the Chicago Football Classic, and White said something needs to change on offense before ASU steps on Soldier Field.
“What is it, five touchdowns in four games?” White said. “I’m not sure what’s next, but we can’t keep going the same way we are going.”
ASU has struggled to find a rhythm on offense with Kooi, who joined the team as a transfer from Florida Atlantic about a month before the season started.
He was replaced by backup quarterback Keenan Grissett for a number of series Saturday, but Grissett, a transfer from Gardner-Webb, didn’t get much accomplished either. He finished 6-for-8 for 28 yards, threw an interception and rushed for negative yards.
“I am speechless. Each week the staff has said we had a good game plan and that we would put up some numbers,” White said. “If I knew (what needed to change on offense) I would do it. We seem to be struggling all the way around, running inside and outside, passing short and deep and protecting the passer. It’s hard to put your finger on something positive that we are doing right now.”
Graves got Miles on the board first with a 49-yard TD run with 8:50 left in the first quarter, and then Pitts caught a 46-yard TD pass from Thomas with 13:53 left in the second quarter to put Miles on top, 14-0.
Patton Chambers and Fontaine each hit a pair of field goals in the second quarter to send Miles into halftime ahead 20-6.
It only got worse for the Rams in the second half. Parker Johnson and Jordan Lewis found the end zone for 4- and 11-yard runs, respectively, and LaDarius Thompson returned a punt 90 yards for a TD.
The Rams are staring at their first three-game losing streak since they started the 2002 season with a trio of losses.
In 2002, the losses were close. This season, two of them have been blowouts.
“We aren’t playing well enough to win. It’s as simple as that,” Hoyte said.
But Hoyte isn’t giving up just yet.
“The season isn’t over,” the senior running back added. “Last year we beat them in the first game and then saw them in the championship game. They are in the West, so we still have the whole East Division to see. Our season isn’t over. We can still win the conference, and that’s what we are pushing for.”