Running back Nathan Hoyte rumbles by the Kentucky State defense Saturday afternoon at Soldier Field for a touchdown to help lead the Rams past the Thorobreds, 17-14. (Reginald Christian/Albany State University)
By Dave Melton
SPECIAL TO THE HERALD
CHICAGO — Albany State desperately needed a win. And on the biggest stage of the season, the Rams delivered with a 17-14 victory against Kentucky State on Saturday in the 16th annual Chicago Football Classic, snapping a three-game losing skid.
“It feels like we got the monkey off of our back,” said receiver Ronnie Tubbs, who ended a drought of his own by scoring his first touchdown of the season in the contest.
“We’ve really been down with those three losses,” running back Adrian Alexander said. “But we just kept working hard each day, and it paid off Saturday. But we’re not satisfied with this win. We’ve got to do even better than this.”
Keenan Grissett began the game at quarterback for the Rams, filling in for David Kooi as part of a game plan installed by head coach Mike White.
“We worked hard on trying to run the ball with Grissett first,” White said, “We wanted to get the ball moving that way since we’d been struggling offensively.”
Grissett was at the helm for an uneventful quarter-and-a-half for the Rams’ offense, which mustered just 84 yards in six drives. A pair of those drives ended with turnovers — one interception and one fumble — that set up Kentucky State with prime field position: once at the Rams’ 28-yard line, the other at the 37-yard line. But both times, the Rams defense stiffened, preventing the Thoroughbreds from scoring.
“Our mindset was to pitch a shutout,” star defensive lineman Justin Blash said.
Added LB and former Monroe star Larry Whitfield: “We really just listened to our coach and started to play ball. It was nothing special … we just wanted to play Ram football.”
“I thought that was major because if they had got out in front, it would’ve been a whole new ball game for us,” he said. “We have not played well from behind.”
After that second turnover, Grissett was helped off the field without putting much, if any, pressure on his right leg. As soon as Grissett went down, Kooi — who’d started the previous three games — started warming up on the sidelines.
“We’ve all talked about brotherhood,” left guard Victor Moli said. “When one of your brothers goes down, you have to fight for him.”
The Rams had Kooi’s back.
“All I know is we wanted to move the ball down the field,” said Nathan Hoyte, who rushed for a game-high 95 yards on 23 carries. “It didn’t matter which quarterback was in there.”
Late in the second quarter, Kooi took the field with the Rams’ offense and, instantly, it came to life, driving 72 yards on eight plays for a touchdown with just over a minute left in the second quarter. Hoyte did the honors, plunging into the end zone from eight yards out.
“I just played behind my teammate; they were the ones that made the drive,” said Kooi, who was still visibly limping during the game while suffering from the effects of a hip pointer. “They caught the passes, they made the runs and they made the blocks.”
Albany State led, 7-0, at the half and ran that lead to 10-0 on a 37-yard field goal by freshman kicker Dillan Fontaine after John Rouse recovered a Kentucky State fumble at the 25-yard line.
Kentucky State got on the board on their next drive with a 56-yard bomb to Clayton Patton setting up a 20-yard touchdown scamper by Thoroughbreds quarterback Justin Williams.
After the teams exchanged punts, the Rams put together another scoring drive, this one moving 68 yards on 11 plays, and capping with Kooi’s lone touchdown pass of the day: an 18-yard lob into the end zone on a slant-and-go by Tubbs.
“(Kooi) gave us a few drives; we haven’t been driving the ball like that,” White said. “We’ve had big plays or a 3-and-out. I thought he was the difference.”
The Thoroughbreds added a late touchdown with just over a minute remaining on a 1-yard run QB keeper by Williams. But the Rams would recover the ensuing onside kick, allowing them to run out the remaining time on the clock and snap the school’s longest losing streak in a decade.
“We came out fired up,” said Kooi. “We’re in the (Chicago) Bears’ stadium … you can’t not play here.”