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Albany State quarterback Kelias Williams (12) looks to throw to a receiver during Saturday’s game against Morehouse at the Albany State Coliseum.

“This is what you hope for, this is going to be exciting,” said Albany State football coach Gabe Giardina. “A game with your biggest rival to decide the division title and the opportunity to host the conference championship. This is why you schedule your biggest rival for the end of the season.”

Albany State University has a ticket allotment that it must sell for the game or the university has to buy the tickets. Fans are urged to buy tickets in advance at Odyssey Records or the ASU bookstore or online at asugoldenrams.com. All tickets sold in Albany benefit Albany State University.

That is what is stake in Columbus. The Albany State Golden Rams (6-3.) will face the Fort Valley State Wildcats (6-3) in the 30th annual Fountain City Classic and the winner will be the SIAC East champions and host the conference championship against the winner of Miles College (7-2) versus Tuskegee (5-4).

The Golden Rams won big last year, 40-6, but the Wildcats have had a much stronger season this year and will provide a different challenge than the other SIAC teams they have played this season. Most SIAC teams have an offense that revolves around a strong rushing game, Fort Valley relies heavily on its’ passing game.

The Wildcats have passed for 2,825 yards this season and have scored 28 passing touchdowns this year. They have rushed for 412 yards and 12 touchdowns. Last week against Savannah State, the Wildcats managed only three rushing yards against the Tigers.

Compare that to Albany State’s 2,032 yards rushing with 15 touchdowns and 824 yards passing with nine touchdowns.

Fort Valley’s biggest offensive threat is senior quarterback Slade Jarman from Pensacola, Fla. In nine games this season he has completed 174 of 281 passes for 2,099 yards and 18 touchdowns. His back up is Demontay Jones from Brooks County and he has passed for 726 yards and eight touchdowns.

Jarman did not play in the loss to Savannah State because of an injury, and his status for Saturday’s game is uncertain.

“This is a different animal than we normally face,” the coach said. “This will be a good test for us. We are going to have to depend on our front four to put pressure on the quarterback and to get our defensive backs to disrupt the patterns of their receivers.”

One of Giardina’s concerns is fatigue for the defensive linemen. He said doing heavy pass rushing and a lot of running can get the linemen fatigued quickly. He is hoping the depth of the Rams and conditioning will keep the pressure on the Wildcat quarterback, whoever he is.

“We have played a lot of defensive linemen this season so they should be in good shape and ready to play. We have to be able to defend 11 guys and not just the one guy at quarterback,” Giardina said. “We need to be able to affect the game with batting down passes and putting pressure on that quarterback.”

Speaking of injured quarterbacks, Albany State fans were excited to see quarterback Kelias Williams on the field Saturday, returning from an early season collar bone injury. Williams’ return fills a big hole left when quarterbacks Dionte Bonneau and Edward Walker suffered season-ending injuries during the Savannah State game. It was Williams’ first time on the field since September 21st when the Golden Rams defeated West Georgia.

“You could see the rust starting to fall of him in the second half last week,” Giardina said. “During the first half you could tell he hasn’t played much, but he started to get things going in the second half against Morehouse. He is a seasoned guy. You can trust him. He has a lot of confidence in himself and we have a lot of confidence in him.”

While the Fort Valley offense has been explosive, their defense has had issues at times. That could Williams and the ASU offense opportunities to exploit.

In tomorrow’s Albany Herald: Two special players put Albany State in position for another SIAC East title.

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