Courtesy of Tuskegee University Athletics
In a tight battle between Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC), Tuskegee used a second half push and another late defensive stop to take the 27-21 win over Central State in the 2023 home opener inside of Abbott Memorial Alumni Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Leading by just six points late in the fourth, the Golden Tigers came away with three stops in the fourth quarter, caused by one interception and two turnovers on down to secure the game. With the win, Tuskegee (3-0, 2-0 SIAC) is off to its best start since 2016. The Marauders are now 1-2 overall and 0-1 in conference play.
Following a Central State touchdown early in the first quarter to gain a 7-0 lead, the Golden Tigers offense then found its way to the endzone for the first time on a 44-yard pass from Ryan Nettles to Antonio Meeks. TU later took their first lead of the game with a field goal to take the 10-7 lead into the half.
After the halftime break, the Golden Tigers opened the second half with a bang as freshman Noah Holton earned his first career interception and returned the turnover for a 25-yard touchdown to give Tuskegee a 17-7 lead just two plays and 19 seconds into the half.
After both teams traded three-and-outs on the ensuing possessions, Central State started the next drive on their own 20-yard line, and immediately pushed the ball downfield with two quick passes for 12 and 14 yards respectively.
Later in the quarter, a pair of drops and a penalty stalled the drive in the red zone, as the Tuskegee defense forced another punt to get off the field, as Central State downed the ball at the Tuskegee one-yard line.
The Golden Tigers got out of dangerous territory on the second play of the drive, as running back Zina Mulbah created some separation with a 12-yard rush, followed on the next play by a 15-yard pass from Malik Davis to tight end Johnny Gilbert.
Two plays later, Davis connected with Corey Pettyfor a 48-yard completion down the sideline to flip the field, however penalties slowed the Golden Tigers down, with an eventual punt from Ryan Duff.
Central State responded on their next possession, driving 90 yards on eight plays in just under three minutes of game play. Quarterback Alec Lewis connected with Micah Lowe for a 24-yard strike to pull the game within three points at 17-14 with just seconds left in the third.
Davis and Petty connected once again on a long pass to start the fourth, with a 27-yard completion on third and five to get the CSU 43, followed shortly after by a 35-yard catch from Keynon Webbto set the offense inside the 12. Two plays later, Central State forced a fumble and returned it all the way back for a touchdown, retaking the lead at 21-17.
The Golden Tigers responded quickly, as Davis led the offense on a five-play 79-yard touchdown drive, capped by a 35-yard catch and score from Meeks and extra point from Lorcan Ryans to give TU the 24-21 lead.
On the next possession, Tuskegee came away with a crucial turnover, as Mikael King caught his second interception of the season on the first play of the drive on Central State’s 25-yard line. Despite six yards on the ground from Chase Sellers in the first two plays, a penalty and fumble forced Tuskegee to kick a field goal, extending the lead to 27-21 with just under seven minutes remaining.
Still a one score game, the Marauders looked poised for another lead change, pushing the ball downfield with a 10-yard rush followed by a 51-yard pass to get into the Tuskegee red zone. The drive ended on a fourth-and-three stop from inside the five-yard line on a tackle from defenders Vincent Hill and Tydarrious Wells.
On the next drive, the Golden Tigers ran off over two minutes of game clock on five plays, ending in another point from Duff, starting the Marauder’s final possession on their own 40. Central State gained 18 yards on the second play of the drive, before later turning the ball over on downs with an incomplete pass on fourth down on the Tuskegee 36-yard line.
Nettles earned the start on the day, replacing an injured Bryson Williams, and finished 13-for-28 for 208 yards. Meanwhile, Malik Davis saw action in the second half, going 7-for-9 for 176 yards off the bench. Tuskegee also pair of receivers to go over the 100-yard mark in Meeks and Petty catching four passes each. Meeks finished with 119 yards, followed by 100 from Petty and 61 yards on four catches from Webb.
Malik Moore led the defensive unit in the win, recording a season-high ten total tackles, including 1.5 tackles for loss and one pass breakup. King added seven tackles and one for loss, along with his interception, while Zelly Aldridge finished with five tackles, a fumble recovery and quarterback hurry on the day.
The Golden Tigers will remain at home for their next game on Saturday, Sept. 23 as they host another fellow SIAC opponent in Lane College. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. inside of Abbott Memorial Alumni Stadium.