Golden Tigers victorious over Bulldogs in Louis Crews Classic
Nared's 56 yard TD pass to Gardner seals game for Golden Tigers
BY: Michael Stewart, Sports Information Director, Tuskegee University
Justin Nared had a great opening game for the 2013 Golden Tigers' football season, as he was 11-of-18 for 206 yards, three touchdowns and an interception.
HUNTSVILLE (September 7, 2013) - A key 56-yard touchdown pass from Justin Nared to Marquel Gardner in the third quarter gave Tuskegee all the separation they needed in pulling off a season-opening upset with a 23-7 victory the 4th annual Louis Crews Classic on Saturday night at Louis Crews Stadium.
The Golden Tigers (1-0 to start the 2013 campaign) were able to break the game open early as Alabama A&M made a key mistake in the opening quarter. Just after Nared was able to complete a 23-yard pass to Christopher Anderson, Alabama A&M's Lawrence Barnett fumbled the ensuing kickoff at his own 27 yard line. After Tuskegee's Keith Trumps picked up the ball, Nared was able to fire off another touchdown pass on the very next play to Larry Cobb for 27 yards. This gave the defending SIAC Champions a 14-0 lead, with two touchdowns scored in a span of 15 seconds.
Tuskegee Head Coach Willie Slater made the gutsy move to go with a pass on the very next play, and much of it was likely due to the fact that several members of the Tuskegee coaching staff took the trip down to Grambling, LA to watch Alabama A&M's season opening 23-9 victory just after the Golden Tigers held their final preseason scrimmage of the season earlier that morning.
"I just feel very fortunate that we were able to recover that fumble," Slater said. "It put us in a very good position at that point and we were able to take advantage. When we made the trip, we were able to get an affirmative on several of their personnel, and learned more about their secondary. They were doing a lot of the same stuff on defense that they did last year (in Tuskegee's 7-6 loss against the Bulldogs in the season opening loss in Birmingham)."
Alabama A&M threatened to close the gap in the third quarter, but Cesar Ramon missed a key 27-yard field goal. However, the Bulldogs' defense forced a three-and-out for Tuskegee, and Barrington Scott was finally able to score on the stingy defense of the Golden Tigers with a two-yard score with 1:38 remaining in the third quarter.
Even though the TU defense allowed this touchdown, they must receive credit for holding up their end of the bargain against Alabama A&M, as sophomore linebacker Quavon Taylor was the game's leading tackler, as he had four solo tackles to go with eight assisted tackles, and a key pass breakup in the third quarter that initially looked like it would be a pick-six before the Miami, Fla. native dropped the pigskin. Junior linebacker El' Malik Chinn finished with seven total tackles of his own, which was still a greater amount that anyone on Alabama A&M's defense. Two Bulldogs had team highs of six tackles each.
The game broke open again in the fourth with Gardner's spectacular score, putting Tuskegee fully in control after breaking a devastating tackle attempt near Alabama A&M's 30-yard line before coasting in for the deciding score.
Nared was 11-for-18 under center, with a total of 206 yards and three TD passes to go with one interception. TU Coach Willie Slater also had an effective running game under center, as Rashard Burkette was the leading rusher for the Golden Tigers, as he had three rushed for 33 yards.
Slater said that the winning edge during the contest came from improved play between the quarterback-receiver duo.
"The quarterback play in the game improved significantly," Slater said. "Basically, they had nine people on the line determined to stop the run, and were daring us to throw it. Marquel ran a great route, and both he and Justin had to make adjustments. But, everything worked out and we were able to make the most out of the situation."
In a surprise move by Slater, Michael J. Thornton was relegated to his regular position as starting fullback, as he finished the game with 19 yards running on five carries. Starting at tailback was freshman tailback Hoderick Lowe, as the graduate of Grady High School from Atlanta, GA had six carries for 31 yards.
Next week, Tuskegee travels to Albany, GA where the Golden Tigers try to start up a two-game winning streak to begin 2013 against the Golden Rams of Albany State University. This is the first time that the two teams have played each other since the 2010 season, when Tuskegee suffered one of two losses all season long against ASU in a 34-6 setback played during the third week of that season in Cleve L. Abbott Memorial Stadium.
Saturday's game falls four days shy of the three-year anniversary of when these two teams played last, and Slater was very complimentary of his competition while acknowledging what his team will try to improve on during the week.
"They always have a good team," Slater said. "They have great size, and they're always tough on defense. What stands out in my mind is that we got beat the last time we played them. We made a lot of first game mistakes that I believe we will be able to fix. There were a couple of unnecessary turnovers and some missed assignments that we need to correct, but I believe that we will do what is necessary in order to be ready."
The game, which was orignally scheduled to become the Second Annual Inner City Classic in Atlanta before the contest turned into a home-and-home series due to budget issues, is set for kickoff at 7:00 p.m. EST (6:00 p.m. CST).