JACKSON, Tenn. (October 15, 2011) -– The Golden Tigers had their most productive offensive game of the season Saturday against Lane College en route to a 41-17 SIAC victory that keeps alive their flickering hopes of winning the West Division championship.
The Golden Tigers (2-4, 2-2 SIAC) more than doubled their previous high for points in a single game this season, 19 against Langston, and they gained a season-best 279 total yards. In addition, the Golden Tigers rushed for 251 yards, eclipsing their previous season-high of 144 yards on the ground against Stillman.
“That was a big game for us,’’ Coach Willie Slater said. “Looking back on the schedule, we’ve had some tough games, but we keep getting better.’’
Last week, conference presidents decided that all conference games, not just games within the division as was stated at the beginning of the season, should count toward determining the division championship. That means that for the Golden Tigers to the division title and berth in the inaugural SIAC Championship Game, division leader Stillman (6-1, 4-0 SIAC) would have to lose its three remaining conference games and the Golden Tigers would have to win out.
Stillman has conference games against Fort Valley State, Clark Atlanta and Miles remaining. The Golden Tigers have to face Kentucky State, Clark Atlanta and Miles.
“The championship game is still a possibility,’’ said Slater, who led the Golden Tigers to conference championships each of his first four seasons. “Stillman has to finish strong (to win the division). If we can run the table and get in the championship game, we have a chance (for another conference crown).’’
Even if Stillman does finish first in the division, there is some question as to whether the Tigers would play in the conference championship game. Their Homecoming game is Nov. 12 against Concordia-Selma and it is unclear which game they will play.
Lane (3-4, 1-3 SIAC) figured to be another difficult game for the Golden Tigers based on the Dragons’ showing this season. The Dragons ended a 21-game losing streak when they beat Edwards in their season opener. Last week, they defeated Albany State, the defending SIAC champion, which was ranked No. 12 in NCAA Division II. Their three victories this season are the most for them since they were 4-7 in 2008.
But the Golden Tigers, thanks to a pulverizing running game, didn’t have much trouble with the Dragons while defeating them for the 17th time in 17 games in the series. The Golden Tigers gained 251 yards on the ground, led by DeMario Pippen with 92. Three other ball carriers rushed for at least 30 yards – Byron Key, 49; Ryan Crespo, 45, and Joshua Crowe, 34. Golden Tiger runners averaged 4.9 yards a carry.
“We were able to get the ball outside a little bit,’’ Slater said, explaining why the Golden Tigers had so much luck running the ball. “That helped, and it helped get the inside running game going. Looking at them on film and what they had done in the last three games, we saw that we could exploit them if we ran outside the tackles.’’
The Golden Tigers led 20-3 at the half. Their points came on Pippen’s seven-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, a blocked punt that William Buford recovered in the end zone and a pair of second-quarter field goals by Eduardo Murillo from 35 and 49 yards.
The Golden Tigers’ defense had another strong performance, holding Lane to 194 total yards, including only 88 on the ground, and forcing three turnovers.
Cornerback Kenneth Baker converted one of Lane’s turnovers into a score when he returned a fumble 53 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter. Baker’s touchdown gave the Golden Tigers a 27-3 lead.
“The defense did some really good things,’’ Slater said. “We stuffed their running game. They couldn’t run the ball at all.’’
The Golden Tigers got a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns on a one-yard run by Crespo and a three-yard run by Terrell Corbett to end the scoring.
Slater said that the Golden Tigers’ ability to run the ball was an encouraging sign that the retooled offensive line, which includes freshman starters Matthew Reese at left tackle and Michael D. Thornton at left guard, is improving.
“We have a good team,’’ Slater said. “The areas where we’ve been deficient, it’s been young people who have hindered us. I know we’re getting better on the offensive line, at quarterback and running back. We’re a good team. We’ve played some good teams early. We will continue to play good teams, but we will hang in there.’’
The Golden Tigers will travel to Frankfort, Ky., this weekend to tangle with the Thorobreds of Kentucky State and will return home for two straight home games (Clark Atlanta Oct. 29 and Miles Nov. 5 for Homecoming), before facing Alabama State on Thanksgiving Day in the 88th Annual Turkey Day Football Classic at Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Ala.