Courtesy of Tuskegee Athletics
Avenging two consecutive losses in the matchup to start the season, Tuskegee stuffed a goal line rush from Fort Valley State in the final seconds to start off 2023 with a high-scoring 37-31 win on Sunday night in the Boeing Red Tails Classic.
The victory in the head coaching debut of Aaron James was the first Tuskegee win in the three years of the classic, started in 2021 between the two programs inside of the Cramton Bowl.
The new era started with a bang on the offensive side of the ball, gaining a lead in the second quarter and scoring the more points in just the first half than combined over the last two matchups, as they were shut out in 2021 and scored just six points in 2022.
The connection between returning starting quarterback Bryson Williams and receiver Antonio Meeks picked up right where they left off last season, with Meeks finishing with six catches for 149 yards and a touchdown on his way to being named the game’s Most Valuable Player, while Williams completed 12-of-17 passes (70.6 percent) for 217 yards and a pair of touchdown passes. Meanwhile, the running back duo of freshman Zina Mulbah and sophomore Chase Sellers combined for a pair of scores on the ground.
Defensively, the Golden Tigers forced timely turnovers, with interceptions from newly converted cornerback Mikael King Jr. and junior Christian Ramsey, while also forcing and recovering a Wildcat fumble in the fourth quarter.
But despite the spectacular offensive output, the game came down to the defense needing to produce a game-winning stop — and they delivered to seal the game in the closing seconds.
After the gaining a 37-17 lead in the third quarter, the Golden Tigers held off strong comeback from Fort Valley as the Wildcats scored 24 straight points before TU’s defense made a goal line stand, holding the opponent out of the endzone despite five plays inside the five-yard line to clinch the win.
“We have emphasized bend but don’t break to our defense and within our program all off-season,” Coach James said. “Yes, I may be an offensive coach, but offense may win games, but defense wins you championships, and they showed up there in the end.”
Until that point, the game had hung in the balance. While Tuskegee took the lead in the first half and extended its edge to as many as 20 points in the second half, Fort Valley State fought back, closing the gap in the fourth quarter. The Wildcats — who finished with 400 yards of offense — got within six fourth quarter on a two-yard run from Kentrelle Williams.
The two teams were both forced to punt on their next drives, followed by turnovers from both sides, with a Golden Tiger fumble followed by an interception thrown by the Wildcats. FVSU earned its final possession after a second punt from Tuskegee with 1:24 to play, before the Golden Tigers final stop of the game.
“Our fan base is amazing, as you saw, they packed the house for us tonight,” James added. “Our team was very resilient, it was a back-and forth game, we tried to keep our foot on the gas, but our defense came up big when the offense sputtered as well as made some plays on special teams.”
After a balanced first quarter, ending in a 7-7 score, Tuskegee gained control in the second, taking a 14-7 lead after rushing scores from Mulbah and Sellers. TU forced a punt on the next Wildcat possession, before going 47 yards on five plays and kicking a field goal to take a ten-point lead. FVSU responded soon after, driving down 72 yards on seven plays and scoring on the ground to pull back within three at 17-7.
After the teams traded punts over the next two drives, the Golden Tigers reached the endzone again, on a four-play 67-yard drive. Williams and Meeks were excellent on the drive, connecting twice for 64 yards including a. 20-yard pass to cap off the drive with under a minute remaining in the half.
Williams added his second touchdown pass with just over nine minutes to go in the third on a10-yard toss to Noah Hart to put the Golden Tigers up 31-14, before the Wildcats responded with a field goal.
The special teams’ units were keys in the third, as freshman Dejuan McGhee returned the next kickoff for 92 yards and a touchdown to put TU up 20, before a 94-yard return by Dejuan Bell form FVSU to make the score 37-23 after a missed extra point from Tuskegee, a lead they held for the remainder of the quarter.
After the second comeback effort from the Wildcats in the fourth, the Golden Tiger defense came up with the crucial stop in the final possession to wrap up the win.
The Golden Tigers officially start Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) play on Saturday, September 9, as they travel to face Kentucky State in Frankfort at 1 p.m. EST at Alumni Stadium.
Next Game: at Kentucky State 9/9/2023 | 1 p.m. (ET)
|07:04 – FVS – Durham,Kelvin 18 yd run (Gibbs,Daniel kick), 10 plays, 62 yards, TOP 05:34||7||0|
|03:49 – TU – Sellers,Chase 2 yd run (Ryans,Lorcan kick), 4 plays, 49 yards, TOP 01:29||7||7|
|14:55 – TU – Mulbah,Zina 5 yd run (Ryans,Lorcan kick), 4 plays, 40 yards, TOP 01:01||7||14|
|10:53 – TU – Ryans,Lorcan 34 yd field goal 5 plays, 47 yards, TOP 02:19||7||17|
|08:37 – FVS – Williams,Kentrelle 7 yd run (Gibbs,Daniel kick), 6 plays, 72 yards, TOP 02:16||14||17|
|00:54 – TU – Meeks,Antonio 20 yd pass from Williams,Bryson (Ryans,Lorcan kick) 4 plays, 67 yards, TOP 02:01||14||24|
|09:11 – TU – Hart,Noah 10 yd pass from Williams,Bryson (Ryans,Lorcan kick) 10 plays, 55 yards, TOP 04:38||14||31|
|04:52 – FVS – Gibbs,Daniel 31 yd field goal 8 plays, 61 yards, TOP 04:19||17||31|
|04:37 – TU – Mcghee,Dejuan 92 yd kickoff return ( )||17||37|
|04:23 – FVS – Bell,Dejuan 94 yd kickoff return (Gibbs,Daniel kick)||24||37|
|11:31 – FVS – Williams,Kentrelle 2 yd run (Gibbs,Daniel kick), 5 plays, 72 yards, TOP 01:59|