Courtesy of Benedict College Athletics
COLUMBIA, S.C. – In a historic season of firsts, the Benedict College Tigers reached another milestone with their first-ever SIAC football championship by overwhelming Tuskegee 58-21 on Saturday in Charlie W. Johnson Stadium.
An emotional head coach Chennis Berry, as he always does after the team wins, gave praise to God. “We’ve come so far in a short period of time,” Berry said. “I’m just humbled and grateful that we’re here. Now we’re able to say we’ve got the first football championship in the history of Benedict College.”
The Tigers, now 11-0 on the season, had a season-high 573 yards of total offense and held Tuskegee to an opponent season-low 41 yards rushing. The Golden Tigers finished with 242 yards of total offense and scored their only two touchdowns on a pair of deep passes – for 75 and 66 yards. The Golden Tigers had 133 yards on those two pass plays, but managed just 109 total yards of offense on 48 combined other plays, and most of those came in the fourth quarter after Benedict had built an insurmountable lead.
“We have a very explosive offense,” Berry said. “I think we’re very good up front with the offensive line. Our quarterback is a dual threat and he’s explosive and can make things happen. I really believe wholeheartedly that we have two of the best running backs in the country with Noah Zaire Scotland and Deondra Duehart. And we have some receivers who can stretch the field vertically. When you put all those pieces together, we feel we have a pretty good explosive offense.”
That offense was dynamite on Saturday against Tuskegee. Benedict scored on their first four offensive series, plus added a special teams touchdown when Reginald Harden scooped up a fumbled punt snap and raced 25 yards for a touchdown. Benedict had a 42-14 lead at the half.
Eric Phoenix completed 19-of-29 passes for 313 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. He completed touchdown passes of 36 yards to Joshua Gaddy and 14 yards to Tayven Grice.
“It feels good to bring a program from the bottom to the top,” said Phoenix, who was a part-time starter as a freshman in 2019, when the Tigers went 1-9. “This is a blessing.”
Phoenix was also Benedict’s leading rusher with 91 yards on 11 carries and one touchdown. The Tigers finished with 236 yards rushing, with Duehart scoring on a 12-yard run and Scotland scoring on runs of 22 and 1 yard. Da’Von Smith added a 3-yard rushing touchdown.
While the offense was lighting up the scoreboard, the Benedict defense recorded seven sacks – three by Loobert Denelus, the SIAC Defensive Player of the Year. Tuskegee was just 1-of-12 on third down conversions, and 1-of-4 on fourth-down conversions. The Golden Tigers, who wrap up their season at 8-3, had their eight-game winning streak snapped.
“Since Coach Berry has been here, it’s been a new day, new way,” Denelus said. “Now we’re trying to create a new legacy, create a new Benedict that’s going to be extraordinary.”
“He’s a special young man,” Berry said about Denelus. “He’s the most amazing man you’ll every meet. He’s a man of God, he’s an amazing student, and he’s a really, really good football player. He’s made us better, not only on the field but off the field as well.”
The Tigers will await Sunday’s NCAA playoff selection show to determine their official seeding. Benedict was No. 1 in the region last week, and certainly did nothing on Saturday to change that position. The No. 1 team in the region will have a bye in the first round, with the second round set for Saturday, Nov. 28.
“We have something special here,” Berry said. “I think we have all the things we need to be successful.”