By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus
While the road to Atlanta and the Celebration Bowl for the SWAC and MEAC still has a few bumpy rides remaining, the other two conferences in black college football will reach their zeniths this Saturday in Virginia and Alabama.
In the CIAA, the two preseason favorites — Bowie State (8-2) and Fayetteville State (6-2) — are here to battle for the crown. As for the SIAC, Albany State (7-3) and Miles College (4-6) both overcame slow starts to reach the title game.
Today, we’ll take a step forward and a step back to preview Saturday’s title action
STREAKING TO FAIRFIELD
If there’s a theme to the SIAC title tilt, it would definitely be “it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish”. If someone had told you back in September that either the Golden Rams (a 0-3 start) or the Golden Bears (a 0-5 start) would be playing for a championship, they might have looked at you cockeyed.
However, Albany State — the preseason favorite to take the East — rallied under head coach Gabe Giardina. The Golden Rams have won seven straight, including a 30-24 win against the Golden Bears on September 24th along the way.
Four years ago, ASU went 7-3 and rode a six-game winning streak before coming up short in the championship to Tuskegee. In fact, the Golden Rams had reached the SIAC title game six years straight, before their third-place finish in the East last year.
ASU’s option featured offense leads the league in the rushing, averaging just under 200 yards (193.1) per game. The tandem of Tracy Scott and McKinley Habersham have combined for over 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns on the season.
As for the Golden Bears, they’ve won four of their last five contests to rally themselves into hosting Saturday’s game at Sloan-Alumni Stadium. The turnaround under Reginald Ruffin came during Homecoming as they picked up their first win over Central State, 41-20.
From there, the momentum continued as they followed up defeating Kentucky State before a close fall to lane, 15-14. That did not stop Miles. The final two games were full of late-game magic as they picked up close victories over Clark Atlanta and Tuskegee.
Last year, the Golden Tigers spoiled Miles’ chances at an opportunity for a Division II playoff berth after coming up short in a 50-20 loss. This year turned out to be very different.
Miles erased a 17-point deficit, the team’s largest comeback win since climbing from a 21-point hole against Fort Valley State in the 2016 Labor Day Golden Classic. Saturday’s game will be the fourth time that these two programs will face off for the SIAC title.
The Golden Bears will be led defensively by linebacker Austin Stephens, the SIAC’s Defensive Player of the Year. A native of Munford, Ala., Stephens finished with a league-leading 108 tackles (50 solos, 58 assists)
Since their first appearance in 2011, the Golden Bears holds the title for the most appearances in the Western Division (4), followed by Tuskegee (3) and Kentucky State (1) since the championship game was introduced in 2010.
Scheduled for a 3 pm ET kickoff, the game can be seen live on ESPN3.
SEEKING TO MAKE A STATEMENT
For the third time in four seasons, Damon Wilson and his Bulldogs have reached the CIAA Championship Game. Two years ago, Bowie State fell to Winston-Salem State in a 43-33 shootout.
They return this season seeking their first recognized conference football crown after their 1989 championship title was vacated due to the participation of an ineligible player.
Once again, the Bulldog offense is being led by Amir Hall. One of the best quarterbacks in all of college football, Hall has already broken the CIAA’s career record for touchdown passes with 98.
He’s just 91 yards shy of breaking the league’s career passing yardage mark (10, 621) held by N.C. Central’s Earl “Air” Harvey. The CIAA’s Offensive Player of the Year for the second straight season, Hall’s 3,325 yards (332.5 avg. per game) this season leads the nation.
Ironically, the Fayetteville State offense under Richard Hayes Jr. has outscored BSU’s attack this season. The Broncos’ 357 points (38.1 ppg.) compared to the Bulldogs’ 314 points (31.4 ppg.), despite playing two fewer games.
Running back Stevie Green, an All-CIAA Second Team selection, leads the FSU attack with 925 yards and seven touchdowns. Quarterback Collyn Anderson completed just under 60 percent of his passes (58.1%) this season and added 11 TDs.
Both finalists, along with fellow conference foe Virginia Union (8-2) and Albany State, are in the latest NCAA Super Region 2 rankings. Bowie State is fourth, Albany State is seventh, Virginia Union is ninth, and Fayetteville State is 10th.
The top eight teams in each of the four Super Regions of the NCAA will be invited to the Division II Playoffs which begin next weekend. Saturday’s game, slated for a 1 pm ET kickoff can be seen live on the Aspire Network and the CIAA’s Digital Sports Network.
Anthony McClean can be reached via email at email@example.com.