The third in the Division II playoffs was a charm for Tuskegee Saturday.
The Golden Tigers defeated Catawba 26-16 in Salisbury, N. C., for the first playoff victory in program history after losing in the first round each of the past two years.
“We are excited,” Tuskegee head coach Willie Slater said. “We have been telling them all year this is a great opportunity because we are considered to be one of the top 28 teams in the country. They listened to us, and we are excited to make it past the first round.’’
Tuskegee (9-2) will play the University of North Alabama in Florence, Ala., in the second round. The Golden Tigers will be facing North Alabama in the postseason for the second time in three years. They lost to the Lions 31-27 in 2013 in a game that was also played in Florence. Last season, they lost at home to West Georgia 20-17.
Tuskegee, coming off a disappointing 26-23 homecoming loss against Miles that cost them a berth in the SIAC Championship game and a shot at their second consecutive conference title, struck quickly against Catawba (9-3). They drove 72 yards in seven plays on their opening possession. Quarterback Kevin Lacey connected with Peyton Ramzy on a 39-yard touchdown pass with 12:20 remaining in the first period to give Tuskegee a 7-0 lead.
The Golden Tigers struck again when Jerome Lewis scored on a two-yard run with 3:59 to play in the quarter. The drive was highlighted by a 25-yard pass from Lacey to Hawkins to set up the touchdown run that gave Tuskegee a 14-0 advantage at the half.
“We were very fortunate to have some big plays,” Slater said. “We felt like if they did some things then we had a chance.”
Catawba cut into the lead early in the third period thanks to a pair of big plays. Keyon West completed a 25-yard pass to Gary Williams on a reverse play, and Williams scored on 45-yard on the next play that trimmed Tuskegee’s lead to 14.7
The Indians made it a four-point game after Tuskegee fumbled the ensuing kickoff after returning the ball to midfield; Chad Hollandsworth kicked a 25-yard field that made the score 14-10 13:21 remaining in the game.
Tuskegee regained control of the game with a four-pay 63-yard scoring drive that ended with Lacey’s second touchdown pass, a 12-yard strike to Leo Gilbert that made the score 20-10. Linebacker Jewell Ratliff returned a pass interception 45 yards for a touchdown that sealed the victory with 7:27 left in the game.
Quarterback Mike Sheehan threw a four-yard touchdown pass to West for Catawba’s final points. Sheehan completed 38 of 47 passes for 305 yards. But the Golden Tigers intercepted two of his throws and sacked him four times, and they held Catawba to 85 yards rushing.
North Carolina Central 21, North Carolina A&T 14 – The Eagles earned a share of the MEAC championship with a road victory over the nationally ranked Aggies. It is the second consecutive year that North Carolina Central (8-3, 7-1 MEAC) has denied the North Carolina A&T (9-2, 7-1 MEAC) the outright conference title by beating them in the season-finale.
The Eagles’ seventh straight victory created a three-way tie for the championship as they will share the title with the Aggies, ranked 13th in the FCS coaches poll, and Bethune-Cookman, which defeated Florida A&M in the Florida Classic, Last season the Eagles beat North Carolina A&T in the season finale to create a five-way tie for the conference championship. The eight wins are the most for North Carolina Central since reclassifying to Division I in 2007.
However, North Carolina A&T, will represent the MEAC in the inaugural Celebration Bowl against the SWAC champion by virtue of the three-team tie-breaker. North Carolina A&T entered the game with the No. 1 rushing defense in the FCS. But North Carolina Central gouged the Aggies for 193 yards on the ground and 393 overall.
North Carolina A&T had given up only 73.7 rushing yards a game in its first 10 contests. Running back Dorrel McClain led the Eagles rushing attack with 167 yards. Quarterback Malcolm Bell passed for 200 yards and scored a pair of rushing touchdowns. North Carolina A&T was unable to mount a sustained offense the entire game, but the Aggies led 3-0 in the first quarter.
North Carolina Central went ahead 14-3 on Bell’s three-yard touchdown run and 67-yard punt return for a touchdown by LeVonte Smith. Tony McRae returned the kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown following Smith’s score, but McClain scored on a 16-yard run to stretch the lead to 21-10. North Carolina A&T freshman quarter Kylil Carter got the Aggies back in striking distance of the lead with a one-yard touchdown pass. North Carolina A&T made bid to take the lead in the final five minutes, but the Aggies lost a fumble that Jalen Wilkes recovered, killing their drive.
Alcorn State 44, Alabama A&M 10 – The Braves rushed for a school record 500 yards as they clinched their second consecutive SWAC East Division championship with a home victory. Alcorn (7-3, 5-2 SWAC), the defending conference champion, had three ball-carriers gain more than 100 yards each, led by backup quarterback Lenorris Footman with 142.
Footman was starting his third game since replacing injured starter John Gibbs Jr. Running back Darryan Ragsdale and Marquis Warford gained 125 and 118 yards, respectively. Alabama A&M (2-8, 2-6 SWAC) had 156 yards total offense, including only 18 passing, and allowed eight quarterback sacks, while losing its fourth consecutive game.
Bethune-Cookman 35, Florida A&M 10 – The Wildcats earned a share of their fifth MEAC title in the past six years with a victory against their arch-rivals in the Florida Classic in Orlando. Quarterback Quentin Williams passed for three touchdowns and ran for another as Bethune-Cookman (9-2, 7-1 MEAC) defeated the Rattlers (1-10, 1-7 MEAC) for the fifth straight time. Florida A&M finished the year with its first one-win season since 1943 and the first 10-loss season in the program’s storied history.
Division II Playoffs:
Assumption 51, Bowie State 29
Slippery Rock 40, Virginia Union 21
Delaware State 32, Howard 31
Norfolk State 17, Morgan State 10
South Carolina State 52, Savannah State 29
Alabama State 26, Miles 7
Arkansas-Pine Bluff 25, Mississippi Valley State 19, OT
Prairie View A&M 56, Jackson State 14
Tennessee Tech 30, Tennessee State 24