There will be a new king in the SIAC. For the first time since 2017, a school not named Albany State of Miles will not be taking part in or hoisting the championship trophy.
The 2022 battle for conference supremacy will pit Eastern Division Champion Benedict College and Western Champion Tuskegee.
With all the attention focused on Benedict, Albany State, and even Lane, particularly after the win over Tennessee State, Tuskegee ( 8-2, 7-0) has gone about their business of running through the western division of the conference somewhat under the radar. Reggie Ruffin made his return to Tuskegee in December 2021 after nine years at Miles College where as head coach and Director of Athletics he compiled a 59-39 record, won 4 SIAC Championships and made 2 NCAA playoff appearances. In his first season Ruffin has helped to transform the Golden Tigers from 3-8 overall and 2-4 in the SIAC in 2021 to just a season later to a team that went undefeated n conference play and only suffered defeats at the hands of the Big South’s Hampton and Fort Valley State in the Cranton Bowl, a non-conference matchup in the first week of the season.
Ruffin has instilled in and displays a level of confidence in his players and that bore itself out in their Homecoming game last week against Miles last week, which was Tuskegee’s first home game of the season, due to new turf being laid at Abbott Stadium. In a tight game against rival Miles, Ruffin made the call to go for the win rather than potentially force another overtime. It was a call that proved to be the right one as Donte Edwards punched it in to give Tuskegee a Homecoming win in their first and only game of the season. Off the call, Ruffin said “I wasn’t going into no overtime , man, You know, that’s something we practice everyday. Our offensive coordinator, our offensive group, they work on this .”
Coach Chennis Berry took over a Benedict team that was 1-9 the season prior to his arrival and in just his second season he has transformed them into the class of the SIAC East, storming through the conference, allowing just 11.1 points per game and an average margin of victory of 25.2 points. Benedict, a school that has never won more than 8 games in a season since reinstituting their football program in 1995, went 7-0 in league play and an 10-0 overall record, which was the first undefeated season in school history. This season the program experience another first , with their first appearance in the American Football Coaches Association Top 25. Benedict is investing in its football program with upgrades to the facilities, including a new turf and scoreboard at Charles W. Johnson Stadium in 2019 and the opening of a new weight room , all of which are paying dividends with wins on the field.
Why Tuskegee can win
The Golden Tigers’ margin for error against Benedict is razor thin. In the Tigers, Tuskegee faces an opponent who is, at least statistically speaking, superior to them in, but not limited to scoring offense, scoring defense, total offense total defense, rushing offense, rushing defense, passing offense and passing defense. Tuskegee will have to run the football effectively, not only to maintain a balanced attack, but also to keep the SIAC-leading Benedict offense, who averages 31.3 point per game off the field. Taurean Taylor and Donte Edwards have combined for 1425 yards and 15 touchdown on the season, and TU will not need big games from one or both of their backs, Quarterback Bryson Williams will have to be accurate and take care of the football. Although Williams only have 6 interceptions on the season, half of them have come in the Golden Tigers’ last three games.
Why Benedict can win
Benedict has the top-rated offense in the SIAC, an offense that has scored at least 35 points in 60% of their games this season. Eric Phoenix and the Tigers offense will present more problems than the Golden Tigers defense will be able to solve.Running back Deondra Duehart leads the SIAC with a staggering 9.1 yards per carry , leading a run game that averages 172.9 yards per game. As Tuskegee has the third-worst run defense in the conference, surrendering 183.4 yards per contest, it could be a very long day for Golden Tiger defenders.
Defensively, Benedict leads the SIAC in total defense, allowing 233.4 yards per game and combined with the few points the Tiger defense allows, Benedict will be able to snuff out the Tuskegee offense,that is a best a mid-tier unit.
In summation, Benedict will be score relatively easily on the Tuskegee offense. TU does not have the offensive firepower to keep pace, with a lot of help from the Benedict defense. While Tuskegee will be well-coached and play hard, ultimately the talent disparity on both sides of the ball with overwhelm the Golden Tigers. The SIAC trophy will be heading to Columbia , South Carolina for the first time.
Benedict 35 Tuskegee 13