Coming off a loss to Southern in the Southwestern Athletic Conference on Sept. 16, Alabama A&M faced a stiff test entering its last game five days later.
Playing on Thursday, Sept. 21, meant the Bulldogs had a short week to prepare. Starting 0-2 in the SWAC would greatly diminish their championship hopes.
But they met that challenge in their home opener, earning a hard-fought victory against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, 31-24, on ESPN. AAMU head coach Connell Maynor said their backs were against the wall, and they must win their remaining conference games to control their own destiny.
Saturday’s matchup against Tuskegee presents a different test for the Bulldogs: Stay intense against a Division II opponent and stay focused during homecoming.
“They’re coming up here trying to beat us, and we have to be prepared for that,” Maynor told reporters Tuesday. They’ve had teams in their conference beat teams in our conference already. They’re thinking they can come up here and beat us.”
Tuskegee has reason to believe, undefeated through four games under first-year head coach Aaron James. The Golden Tigers kept their perfect record intact last week by edging Lane in double overtime, 28-22. Sophomore linebacker Vincent Hill was named Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Week, recording 15 tackles and an interception.
AAMU must avoid overconfidence that could arise because the Golden Tigers struggled against Lane – a squad the Bulldogs beat, 51-13, on Sept. 9. Although AAMU and Tuskegee play at different levels, they’re well-acquainted foes and former SIAC rivals; Tuskegee trails in the all-time series, 29-20-3.
The rivalry dates to 1932 and includes a pair of games during James’ tenure as Tuskegee’s star quarterback from 1998-2001. He’s a legend at his alma mater, compiling a 42-5 overall record as a starter. He led the Golden Tigers to three SIAC titles and an undefeated season for the HBCU national championship in 2000. He spent last season as Tuskegee’s offensive coordinator and coach-in-waiting before taking over from Reginald Ruffin, now the school’s athletic director.
With Tuskegee coming off last season’s 8-3 record and an appearance in the SIAC championship, James has three quarterbacks who have attempted 27-38 pass attempts. He predicted a battle between Bryson Williams, Malik Davis, and Ryan Nettles, and he was right.
“The real question I need to get answered for us is in the quarterback room,” James told Alabama News Center during camp. “That’s my baby. I played that position, and we’re not coming into camp with a guy who started off last year. Everybody’s gonna compete for the job.”
Maynor was in a similar position and set to split playing time between AAMU quarterbacks. A change in plans might be required after Quincy Casey torched Pine Bluff, passing for 328 yards and three touchdowns. He completed 82% of his passes (27 of 33) and connected with 10 different receivers, earning SWAC Player of the Week honors (alongside defensive end Zareon Hayes).
“When you play a game like that, you gotta start the next game,” Maynor said Monday during the SWAC media session. “He’ll be the starter this week, and if he plays like that again, he’ll be the starter the week after that. We’re just playing it game by game, and I think we’re in a good situation with our quarterbacks if Quincy continues to play this way.”
Maynor isn’t taking anything for granted against the in-state rival, noting that SIAC members Central State and Miles defeated SWAC members Mississippi Valley and Alabama State, respectively, this season. Tuskegee has title hopes, too, picked to finish third in the SIAC behind Benedict and Albany State.
AAMU generated 505 yards of total offense against Pine Bluff, including 126 yards rushing from halfback Donovan Eaglin. Casey’s 5-yard touchdown pass to Barry White sealed the victory midway through the fourth quarter, a sign of what’s possible when the Bulldogs don’t hurt themselves.
“Offensively, we’ve got to take care of the football,” Maynor said. “We turned it over five times against Southern. We still had an opportunity, but you can’t do that against a good football team, especially on the road in this conference, and think you’re gonna win a football game. We’ve gotta cut down those turnovers on offense and take what the defense gives you – like Quincy did this week – and we can execute at a high level.”
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