Albany State quarterback Frank Rivers is sacked and fumbles the ball in Saturday’s loss to Lane. Despite the devastating loss, the Rams can still win the SIAC East Division and play in the conference championship game. (Reginald Christian/Albany State University)
ALBANY — Kareem Hess walked from the locker room to the practice field on Tuesday afternoon, talking about Albany State’s 1-4 record and how disappointing the start has been in his final season as a Ram.
But the senior running back kept coming back to one word.
“Positive,” he said. “We have to stay positive. We have to find the positives from this season.”
And remarkably, despite the team’s worst start to a season since 1991 and its 0-2 conference record, there is one big positive the Rams are clinging to: They still control their own destiny in the SIAC East Division.
In a season where seemingly everything has gone wrong for the Rams, it’s also been a tough year for every other team in the East Division. All five teams have at least two conference losses, and ASU finishes the season with a game against each of its East Division opponents. Four wins to end the season mean the Rams will make the trip to Atlanta on Nov. 16 to play in the SIAC championship game against the West Division champion.
“We still have a chance,” ASU coach Mike White said. “This is uncharted waters for us. I reminded them that a few years ago we were standing up there holding the (conference championship) trophy. We are on the other end now. We just have to fight through this tough time and pull this season out.”
It’s been 21 years since the Rams have started a season 1-4 and they have only done it twice since 1982. ASU dropped to 1-4 on Saturday with a 37-31 loss to Lane, and Hess said there was utter silence as the team stepped onto the bus after the game for its 10-hour bus ride back from Jackson, Tenn.
Eventually, the chatter started back up among the players — and Hess said it was that moment when the mood shifted from disappointment to preparation for Saturday’s homecoming game against Morehouse.
“We stopped at a gas station, and that’s when we finally started talking to each other,” Hess said. “We started talking about the game and what happened. We started talking about what we needed to work on to get better.”
No giving up. No throwing the towel in on the season. Somehow, the Rams are staying positive about a 2013 season that nobody envisioned starting out this poorly.
“The season is never lost, because I want to go out there and compete,” ASU linebacker and former Monroe star Larry Whitfield said. “A lot of the goals are lost, but the fight always has to come from within and now we have to fight.”
And White said nobody has been fighting harder this season than leaders such as offensive lineman Victor Moli, safety Dexter Moody and linebacker Marcavius Dudley.
“I’ve called those guys out,” White said. “Those guys are going to fight regardless. They keep the team’s mood on an even keel. … We are battling. We are still grinding and are still trying to hang on to the positives.
“There is no reason for us to push the panic button yet. It’s not time yet. What we can do a better job at, we will do that this week.”
CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR: The Rams are 0-4 in one-possession games this season and are getting beat by an average of 5.5 points in those losses. And even though ASU has a dismal 1-4 record, opponents have only outscored the Rams by a total of one point.
White and his players believe they are a handful of plays from being 4-1 or even 5-0.
“We just haven’t made the play,” White said. “Seasons when we have been undefeated here we have been able to make that play at the end and make it with confidence.”
Instead, opponents have been making the plays, like Lane did on Saturday with a go-ahead touchdown in the final minute.
“I don’t know why we haven’t been making those plays, but I just know that the other teams have been making that play to beat us at the end of the game,” Hess said. “We just have to keep working and focus on what we are doing and believe in what coach is doing.”
NO TURNOVERS: In the Rams’ four losses this season, they have forced just five turnovers, with three of those coming in a Week 2 loss to Tuskegee.
The lack of defensive success, White says, stems from the lack of penetration by the defensive line.
“We don’t have a lineman with a sack, and I don’t even know if we have a lineman with a tackle for a loss,” White said. “We talk about these things, but we are who we are. There is nowhere for me to go and pick up another pass rusher. I’ve got who I’ve got, so I have to make the best of it and continue to be positive.”
Opposing quarterbacks have been able to sit in the pocket for extended periods of time this season, allowing receivers to find holes in the secondary. As a result, ASU is second-to-last in the conference in pass defense, allowing 240 yards per game.
“We haven’t been able to rush the passer, and that’s something we are going to try to concentrate on this week is to contain the quarterback and make him throw from the pocket,” White said.
ETC.: The conference’s leading receiver, Camilla native Jessie Atkins, sat out of Saturday’s game against Lane with a bruised elbow, but the former Mitchell County star will likely be on the field this weekend against Morehouse. … In Atkins’ absence on Saturday, ASU quarterback Frank Rivers completed passes to nine difference receivers, including Lenard Walker, who had three catches for a team-high 79 yards and a TD. … ASU is now 0-3 on the road and will play away from home at least two more times this season when they travel to Atlanta on Oct. 26 for a matchup with Clark Atlanta and in the Fountain City Classic in Columbus against Fort Valley State on Nov. 9.