By Andy Johnston
Montgomery, AL — Don’t expect many surprises in the SIAC Championship game on Saturday.
Albany State’s Mike White and Tuskegee’s Willie Slater have been coaching against each other for so many years, both know each other’s philosophy, mindset and game plans.
White focuses much of his attention on his defense, and even though he’s the head coach, still coordinates it and calls the plays. Albany State leads the SIAC in all the major defensive categories, including scoring (14 points), total (229.4 yards), rushing (84.1) and passing (145.3).
“There’s no mystery when you look at their defense,” Slater said. “They’ve been playing the same defense since 1993. We played against them when I was (coaching) at the University of North Alabama and they’re running the same defense as they did then.”
On the other hand, Slater is an offensive guru who coordinates Tuskegee’s offense, a two-back system that balances the run and pass so expertly the Golden Tigers lead the SIAC in scoring (35.3 points) and total offense (387.5 yards).
“They’re just very good at what they do,” White said. “There aren’t any tricks to it. If you saw Tuskegee play this year, last year, the year before, five years ago, you see some of the same things. When you see them play, they just run it really well. A lot times we knew it was coming, we just couldn’t stop it.”
The SIAC championship game, which will be played at 7 p.m. (CST) Saturday at the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Ala., is a rematch of a regular-season game between these programs.
Tuskegee defeated Albany State 20-12 on Sept. 13, the last loss for the Golden Rams (7-2, 6-0) who won seven consecutive games to capture the SIAC East title.
The Golden Tigers (8-2, 7-0) also have won seven straight games and won the West by defeating Miles 48-33 last week.
“It’s tough to beat somebody twice (in the same season),” Slater said. “That’s what is so tough. We had the film early this year and then we got some film from the latter part of the year, and they’re better than they were then. It looks like they’re in shape. They weren’t in good condition in my opinion (in the first game). That’s the only reason why we had a chance last time. They’re in great shape now.”
White’s defense begins with 370-pound nose guard Damien Goosby and 300-pound end Grover Stewart, who tie up blockers and allow linebackers Tavarius Washington – who is third in the SIAC with 79 tackles — and Larry Whitfield fly to the ball.
“We’re going to have to do a good job,” Slater said. “You’re not going to walk up to them and bump them and block them. They’re going to hustle to the ball.”
Albany State will need to stop Tuskegee running backs Hoderick Lowe (639 yards and 10 touchdowns) and Michael J. Thornton (525 yards, 10 touchdowns).
They offer a contrast in styles. Lowe is 5 foot 9 and 170 pounds and Thornton is 6-2 and 238 pounds.
“Any time you play them, it’s about execution,” White said. “They’re such a good team because they execute so well, and that’s what we’ll have to do to come out on top. We’ll have to out execute them.”
This is the first time the SIAC Championship game has been played outside of Atlanta. It quickly outgrew its two previous locations — Clark Atlanta’s Panther Stadium (6,000 seats) in 2011 and Atlanta’s Lakewood Stadium (10,000 seats) in 2012 and last season – and has room for increased attendance at the Cramton Bowl, which has a capacity of 25,000.
“The game has been growing every year. As the game has grown, we outgrew the previous facilities,” SIAC Commissioner Gregory Moore said. “Montgomery is perfect, not just in terms of the location and the community, but also the venue. We believe it is appropriately sized to match the growth of the game.”
“I would advise fans to get there if you want to tailgate and if you want to get a good seat.”
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