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Counting down Southwest Georgia’s Top 10 sports stories of 2013 — No. 1: ASU football finishes turnaround season with SIAC title

Members of the Albany State football team celebrate after beating Fort Valley State on Nov. 9 to win the SIAC East Division title and advance to the conference championship game, which the Rams won a week later to put the finish on one of the most memorable seasons in the history of the program. (Herald file photo)

Members of the Albany State football team celebrate after beating Fort Valley State on Nov. 9 to win the SIAC East Division title and advance to the conference championship game, which the Rams won a week later to put the finish on one of the most memorable seasons in the history of the program. (Herald file photo)

It was becoming the type of season Albany State football fans were starting to brush under the rug.

Instead, 2013 turned into one of the greatest seasons in Albany State football history.

Left for dead with a record of 1-4 midway through the season, the Rams won their final five games, including a 17-14 victory over Miles in the SIAC Championship to give ASU its 20th conference title in school history.

Championship No. 20 might go down as the most improbable of all time.

The Rams had to run the table in their final four regular-season games to even qualify for the SIAC title game, and then they had to overcome a fourth-quarter deficit in the championship bout on Nov. 16 to raise the trophy at Lakewood Stadium in Atlanta.

After the game, ASU coach Mike White told The Herald it would be a championship — and a season — he would cherish for years.

“This is going to stick out,” White said when asked if the 2013 title would mean more than his other five SIAC championships. “This means a lot, in terms of what we have been through the whole year. Our seniors believed we could get it done, and here we are.”

It was a special evening for White, who won his 100th career game Sept. 21 against Elizabeth City State but didn’t win again until homecoming on Oct. 19 against Morehouse.

“Not a lot of people believed in us, but (the seniors) did,” White said. “They kept us positive when it didn’t look good sometimes.”

When looking for senior leadership on the 2013 Rams, you shouldn’t look any further than safety Dexter Moody, a former Georgia commit who was kicked out of the Bulldogs program in 2009 but resurrected his career at Albany State and is now considered one of the top Division II prospects for the 2014 NFL Draft.

And nobody made bigger players in the SIAC title game than Moody, who was named the MVP after blocking a punt and intercepting a pass in the end zone — two plays that led to 10 fourth-quarter points.

“I am going to remember this one for a long time,” Moody, the 6-foot-3 native of Twin City, said after the game. “It means a lot to me, knowing that we started out 1-4 and a lot of people counted us out.”

On the offensive side of the ball, it was transfer quarterback Frank Rivers who helped turn the season around. The former backup at Grambling State found a home at ASU and bounced back from some early-season growing pains to emerge as one of the top quarterbacks in the conference.

Rivers finished second in the SIAC with 2,004 yards passing and 19 touchdowns and had a TD-INT ratio of 12-1 during the Rams’ season-ending, five-game winning streak.

When asked after the title game if he would be returning to Albany State for his senior season, the 6-5 signal caller flashed a smile and told The Herald he would be back.

“I loved it here,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world.”

He said earning an SIAC championship ring was the perfect ending to his first collegiate season as a starting quarterback.

“This means the world,” he said. “This was my first year as an Albany State Ram and a starting quarterback, and I led my team to a championship. It means the world.”

However, the Rams’ season was cut short when they didn’t receive a bid to the NCAA Division II playoffs and the Pioneer Bowl was canceled. The Pioneer Bowl is played annually between the top teams in the SIAC and CIAA not making Division II postseason appearances, but the 2013 game was canceled after the CIAA backed out due to budgetary restraints.

White, who wrapped up his 14th season and 12th straight with a winning record, said it was a strange feeling to end a season with a win but no postseason appearance.

“It’s very odd,” White said in late November. “We were talking to the guys about it, and I think it was 1988 the last time we won (our last game of the regular season) and there was no postseason play for us. This is supposed to be the start of your second season, and so we just have to use it as momentum going into the offseason and getting ready for next year.”

It was a season to remember for the Albany State football team, which is what makes it The Herald’s No. 1 sports story of 2013.