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PREVIEW: Albany State desperate for homecoming win

Albany State quarterback Frank Rivers, left, and receiver Devonta Osborne look on during the Rams’ game last month against Miles. Rivers has had back-to-back solid games for the Rams and is looking for a breakout performance today against Morehouse. (Reginald Christian/Albany State University)

Albany State quarterback Frank Rivers, left, and receiver Devonta Osborne look on during the Rams’ game last month against Miles. Rivers has had back-to-back solid games for the Rams and is looking for a breakout performance today against Morehouse. (Reginald Christian/Albany State University)

ALBANY — Alumni and fans have flocked to Albany from miles around for the Rams’ homecoming game today, and they’ve all come with the same questions and concerns.

How can an ASU football team be 1-4 overall and 0-2 in the conference and how is the team staring at its worst start since 1991?

Ram nation is desperate for a victory today against Morehouse, and so is ASU coach Mike White, whose Rams have won just one of their last six games dating back to last season.

“Whatever the highest (amount of desperation) you can have, that’s where we are,” White said. “That’s how desperate we are for a win.”

The Rams are off to their worst start in White’s 14 years as head coach and are destined to miss the Division II playoffs for the second straight year, and it’s no secret to White that the homecoming crowd is coming to campus full of frustration.

“Football is a big deal here, and nobody knows that more than me,” White said. “I believe they are frustrated with how close we are to winning. I have not heard a lot, but I do know it’s there because I know football is a big deal here, and I think our fans are wondering what’s wrong.”

Rams center Hakeem Lassiter and his teammates have heard the complaints, too.

“Every time you walk around after a loss, people say, ‘What happened? We have to get this next win. We have to win,’ ” Lassiter said. “They are so used to winning down here. If you think about it, when has Albany State ever been 1-4?”

You have to dig deep into the Rams’ history books to find the answer: It’s been 22 years — before most of the current players and students were even born. In that 1991 season, the Rams limped to a 3-7 record, but this year the team surprisingly still controls its own destiny in the SIAC East Division and can advance to the conference championship game with four straight wins to close the regular season.

The Rams can salvage the season, and the comeback starts today against a Morehouse team that is 2-4 overall and 0-2 in the conference.

ASU barely beat Morehouse, 16-13, last season, but it’s the close games this year where the Rams are having trouble. All of their losses have come by no more than eight points.

“We just have to come together as a whole,” ASU No. 1 receiver and former Mitchell County star Jessie Atkins said. “Some games it’s the offense, and some games it’s the defense. The game where offense and defense comes together, that will help us finish out a game. And I think that game where offense and defense comes together will be (today) vs. Morehouse.”

The Rams have had chances to win every game this season, and the players and coaches believe they could easily be 4-1 or even 5-0.

“We are a way better team than 1-4,” Atkins said. “I have never had a losing mentality. We are way better than a 1-4 team, and I can guarantee that. We can play with the best of the best, but we just can’t finish.”

While ASU lost a nailbiter last week to Lane, Morehouse was being blown out by Tuskegee, 54-10. In that game, Morehouse gave up 598 yards of total offense and watched Tuskegee score TDs on eight of its 12 possessions.

Today could be the perfect time for ASU’s offense — which is getting Atkins back from an elbow injury — to put some points on the board early and often.

ASU quarterback Frank Rivers has had solid outings his last two starts and has risen to No. 4 in the SIAC in QB efficiency (119.0) and No. 3 in TDs (7) and yards (1,141). Despite missing last week’s game, Atkins still leads the SIAC with 100.3 receiving yards per game and has been Rivers’ favorite target all year.

For Atkins, it’s a game where the Rams will do anything necessary to score and win.

“We have to win,” Atkins said. “Whatever it takes, even if coach has to go into his trick hat and pull out some tricks, then so be it. We have to get the victory (today).”

Morehouse’s offense is balanced, but generally channels through running back Shelton Hamilton, who is sixth in the SIAC in rushing at 66 yards per game.

“They run the ball well,” White said. “They are very good running the ball, and they do throw the ball. We will see (today) how we match up, but we think we will play a lot better than we did last week.”