Tuskegee continued its historic Division II playoff run with a heart-stopping 35-31 victory against the University of North Alabama Saturday in Florence, Ala.
Running back Dennis Norfleet, a transfer from the University of Michigan, scored the winning touchdown on a two-yard run with 19 seconds to play, propelling Tuskegee (10-2) into the quarterfinals for the first time in three postseason appearances. The win avenged a 31-27 first-round loss to the Lions two years ago. The Golden Tigers will play West Georgia next week in rematch of first-round contest a year ago that West Georgia won 20-17.
“I am just tickled to be back up here,” said Tuskegee coach Willie Slater, a former assistant coach at North Alabama who helped the Lions win three national championships. “It is great to be back in this area. I am stunned, and it is unbelievable the way the game ended. My hats off to our players; they played hard and played with their heart. I am just happy for them.”
With the victory, Slater (92-23) moves past Rick Comegy into second place on Tuskegee’s all-time winning list. His teams have won 10 or more games in six of his 10 seasons at Tuskegee.
Tuskegee led 28-17 after Branden Wilson scored on a four-yard run with 11 seconds left in the quarter. But the Lions (9-3) stormed back to take a 31-28 lead with 3:45 remaining in the game. Kevin Henke booted a 36-yard field goal to get North Alabama started on the comeback trail. The Lions tied the score at 28-all on Luke Wingo’s one-yard touchdown run and a two-point conversion at the 8:45 mark. Henke’s 27-yard field goal gave the Lions’ the lead.
Undaunted, Tuskegee marched 72 yards in 10 plays for the winning score. The Golden Tigers kept the drive going by converting first downs in two critical situations. Norfleet gained six yards on a fourth down play, and quarterback Kevin Lacey connected with Desmond Lacey for 33 yards on a third down play that moved the ball to the two-yard line and set up Norfleet’s winning score.
Tuskegee got a strong performance from its defense even though Wingo passed for 245 yards for North Alabama. The Golden Tigers made North Alabama’s offense one-dimensional by limiting the Lions to 43 yards rushing on 35 attempts; they also sacked Wingo five times. The 288 total yards were the Lions’ season-low.
Tuskegee’s defense set the tone early. Terrence Webb intercepted a pass by Wingo on the Lions’ second play from scrimmage and returned the ball to the North Alabama 17. Norfleet scored on an eight-yard run three plays later for the first points of the game.
North Alabama took a 10-7 lead on Henke’s 39-yard field goal and a 20-yard return of an interception for a touchdown by James Rivers. Tuskegee reclaimed the lead, 14-10, on Lacey’s six-yard touchdown run in the final minute of the first half. North Alabama went back ahead 17-14 on its first possession of the second half on Wingo’s two-yard run. But the Lions weren’t able to protect their lead as Lacey teamed up with Marquel Gardner on a 28-yard touchdown pass and Leeward Brown added a two-point conversion for a 22-17 Tuskegee lead.
The Golden Tigers won despite committing five turnovers – four interceptions and a fumble – largely because of their running game. They rushed for 258 yards and averaged 5.7 yards on 45 attempts. Norfleet led the Golden Tigers with 136 yards on 21 carries.
Alcorn State 14, Jackson State 10 – The Braves, the defending SWAC champions, tuned up for the conference title game with a hard-fought road victory against their arch-rivals. Jackson State upset Alcorn last season and was in position to stun the Braves (8-3, 7-2 SWAC) again in the waning minutes of this year’s contest. The Tigers (3-8, 3-6 SWAC) failed to convert on a fourth-and-seven play at Alcorn’s 39 with 1:36 remaining in the game, ending their upset bid.
Jackson State led 10-7 at the half. Arron Baker scored on a one-yard run to give Alcorn the lead. Alcorn was not sharp on offense in the game. The Braves lost three fumbles and threw an interception for four turnovers. Running back Darryan Ragsdale was the Braves’ main weapon on offense with 101 yards rushing. Defensively, Alcorn limited Jackson State 89 yards on the ground.
Grambling State 34, Southern 23 – The G-Men scored 28 unanswered points to beat the Jaguars and end their three-game Bayou Classic losing streak. The win gives Grambling (9-2, 9-0 SWAC), the SWAC West Division champion, an unbeaten conference record, making the G-Men first team to accomplish that feat since 2008 when they were also perfect against SWAC competition.
Southern (7-4, 6-3 SWAC) led 20-3 in the second quarter after Willie Quinn caught as 27-yard touchdown pass from Austin Howard and Lenard Tillery and Howard scored on runs of two and 13 yards, respectively. Grambling began rolling midway through the period. Quarterback Johnathan Williams threw pair of touchdown passes to make the score 20-17 at the half. Williams scored on a one-yard run in the third quarter and connected with Chad Williams on a 54-yard bomb in the fourth period as the G-Men surged ahead 31-20.
Alabama A&M 38, Texas Southern 7 – The Bulldogs had their most productive offensive showing since their second game of the season as they snapped a four-game losing streak with a home victory. Alabama A&M (3-8, 3-6 SWAC) rang up 497 yards total offense, the most the Bulldogs have gained since registering 571 in a 53-49 loss to Prairie View A&M on Sept. 26. Texas Southern (3-7, 3-6 SWAC) suffered its fourth straight defeat and ended the season with six losses in its last seven games.