Fountain City Classic: Albany State could take huge step toward playoffs with win

One more win and Albany State football coach Mike White finally can breathe better.

The Golden Rams (8-1, 7-1 SIAC) almost assuredly would wrap up a playoff spot with a victory Saturday against Fort Valley State (6-4, 5-3) in the Fountain City Classic at A.J. McClung Memorial Stadium, and Albany State is as close to a conference title as it has been in several years.

Getting out from the shadow of Tuskegee, which dominated the SIAC the past two seasons, is a relief, the coach said.

“We like being back in this situation,” White said. “We want more than just going to the playoffs, and we’re capable of that this season. Most importantly, I like the kids’ attitudes. They’re still not satisfied with where we are yet.”

The No. 13 Golden Rams won three consecutive SIAC titles, beginning in 2003, and shared one with Tuskegee in 2006.

The Golden Tigers won the next two, but, with a win and bit of luck, the Rams could recapture the title Saturday.

No. 16 Tuskegee (7-2, 7-1) shares a conference record with Albany State and plays Stillman (3-5, 2-6) in the conference closer on Saturday. If Albany State wins and Tuskegee loses, Albany State will claim the title. If both teams win or lose, Tuskegee will take the top spot because it defeated Albany State 21-19 in October.

While a playoff spot is not secured — the Golden Rams could drop from No. 3 in Super Region 2 rankings to below the cutoff at No. 6 with an ugly loss to Fort Valley State — booting a single-loss team from the standings would be an unlikely move from the NCAA Division II Football Committee, which determines the standings.

“We’ve been playing all year for this,” White said of the opportunity. “We’re just trying to push ourselves a lot for more this season, and it’s all paying off.”

Fort Valley enters the game ranked No. 10 in the region but trails the five teams ahead of it by only a single win, so it could make the cut.

The Rams don’t have to worry about competition from Tuskegee because the Golden Tigers forgo the playoffs to participate in the annual — and lucrative — Turkey Day Classic at Alabama State.

“It feels real good where we are right now,” Albany State linebacker and former Shaw and Kendrick high player Bruce Ryles said. “We just didn’t think about it; we just played week by week all season long. We didn’t think about the playoffs, but we knew this is where we wanted to be.”