MONTGOMERY – Tuskegee first-year head coach Aaron James predicted a win over Fort Valley State back in the summer.
The Golden Tigers made good on his prediction, but not without a last-second, goal-line stand.
Fort Valley State running back Kentrelle Williams was turned away a foot short of the goal line by senior defensive end Jayden Barfield and junior nose guard Tyler Wells as time expired to preserve the Golden Tigers’ 37-31 victory in the third annual Boeing Red Tails Classic at the historic Cramton Bowl.
It was James’ first career win as a collegiate head coach.
“This one was special,” James said following the game. “I’m proud of our team. The defense bent but didn’t break. They made the plays they needed to make.”
James’ first win was also witnessed by 16,123 fans, the largest in Red Tails Classic history.
Tuskegee could not run out the final two minutes of the game and was forced to punt.
Fort Valley State took over at its own 20-yard line with 1:24 left and no timeouts.
On first down, Kelvin Durham hit a wide-open Za’tarious Anderson on a 76-yard completion to the TU 4-yard line.
After two incompletions and a sack, FVSU was faced with a fourth down at the 5-yard line. Dunham threw an incomplete pass, but a face mask penalty gave the Wildcats new life at the 2-yard line.
With seven seconds left, Dunham threw another incompletion. On second down, FVSU handed the ball to Williams, who was stopped inches from the end zone as time expired.
“I’m not second-guessing myself, but if I had it to do over again, I would have thrown the ball,” FVSU head coach Shawn Gibbs said.
“We tried several passes that didn’t work, so we went to Kentrelle, who had a big night. It’s a game of inches.”
James was elated to get the Golden Tigers off the field.
“The clock wouldn’t run fast enough,” James said. “It seemed like it was in slow motion.”
Tuskegee, who lost the previous two meetings with Fort Valley by a combined score of 51-6, jumped out to a 31-14 lead in this year’s event.
After falling behind 7-0 on Durham’s 18-yard touchdown scamper on the first possession of the game, Tuskegee turned a special teams turnover into a tying touchdown.
After the fumbled punt, the Golden Tigers needed only four plays for the tying touchdown as sophomore running back Chase Sellers scored from the 2-yard line to even the score at 7-7.
Tuskegee (1-0) added a touchdown and field goal on its next two possessions to take a 17-7 lead.
Freshman running back Zina Mulbah’s 5-yard run on the first play of the second quarter made it 14-7.
Freshman kicker Lorcan Ryans added a 38-yard field goal to push the lead to 17-7 with 10:53 left in the half.
Fort Valley State (0-1) answered on its next possession to cut the lead to 17-14. Williams’ 7-yard run capped a 72-yard drive with 8:11 left in the first half.
Antonio Meeks’ 20-yard TD grab gave Tuskegee a 24-14 lead at halftime.
Meeks caught six passes for 149 yards and one touchdown to earn Most Valuable Player honors. Four of his six catches were 20 yards or longer.
“We made some big plays tonight,” Meeks said. “We worked hard in preseason camp. We had a good rhythm tonight.”
Tuskegee scored on its first possession of the third quarter to extend the lead to 31-14. Nick Hart’s 10-yard TD grab capped a 10-play drive for the Golden Tigers.
The two teams combined for 16 points in a span of 29 seconds in the third quarter, including back-to-back kickoff returns.
Fort Valley State kicker Daniel Gibbs booted a 31-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 31-17 with 4:52 left in the third quarter,
On the ensuing kickoff, Tuskegee freshman receiver D.J. McGhee raced 92 yards for a touchdown to stretch to lead to 37-17.
Not to be outdone, Fort Valley senior receiver DeJuan Bell returned the kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown to pull the Wildcats to within 37-24 with 4:23 left in the quarter.
Fort Valley State used a 5-play, 72-yard drive to cut the lead to 37-31 with 11:31 left in the game. Williams scored his second touchdown of the night on a 2-yard run for the Wildcats.
By Barry Allen, ESPN Events