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Alabama State looks for better Turkey Day Classic results vs. Tuskegee
Since 2005, Turkey Day Classic opponents Alabama State and Tuskegee have entered the showdown with familiar forecasts beyond Thanksgiving.
Tuskegee has traditionally been set to play in December’s Pioneer Bowl – the exception being 2008, when the Pioneer Bowl was canceled – while Alabama State knew the annual game was its last of the season. At today’s 3 p.m. kickoff in Montgomery, the roles are reserved.
Tuskegee (8-2) has lost its four-year hold on the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title, while Alabama State (7-3) has secured a spot in the Dec. 11 Southwestern Athletic Conference championship game in Birmingham.
Despite the looming SWAC title showdown with Texas Southern, Alabama State coach Reggie Barlow said he won’t be holding back today.
“Because this game means so much to our alumni and it’s a huge rivalry, you want to go out and play all your guys,” Barlow said. “If you have an opportunity to win and things get out of hand, then that’s when we would pull some of those guys that we would definitely need for the championship.”
While Alabama State has lost five of its past six Turkey Day Classic matches with Tuskegee, Golden Tigers coach Willie Slater sees a different Hornets opponent this year.
Willie-Slater.jpgTuskegee coach Willie Slater’s Golden Tigers are 8-2 this season. (The Birmingham News / Frank Couch)
“As a team, it’s the best since I’ve been playing against them,” said Slater, in his fifth season at Tuskegee. “I think the first thing is it starts with their quarterback. He’s better than anyone they’ve had, and they’ve had some good ones.”
Alabama State quarterback Devin Dominguez has been erratic at times – he was 5-of-16 passing for 40 yards last week at Southern – but has thrown eight touchdowns during the Hornets’ current four-game winning streak.
Dominguez will face one of Division II’s most feared defenses, including a Golden Tigers secondary holding opponents to the nation’s fewest passing yards at 111 per game. In all eight of its wins, Tuskegee has kept opponents under 21 points, but has allowed 26 and 34 points in losses to Fort Valley State and Albany State.
“They’ve been able to get pressure without blitzing, which has caused teams trouble in the passing game,” Barlow said. “All secondaries are good when they have a good D-front. They’ve made a living in forcing quarterbacks to throw interceptions and incomplete passes.”
For Tuskegee, which has committed 22 turnovers this season, keeping control of the ball will be vital against an Alabama State defense that has recorded the third-most takeaways and interceptions in the Football Championship Subdivision. Special attention must be paid to safety Kejuan Riley, tied for second-best in the FCS with seven interceptions.
Slater said the game plan doesn’t dramatically change with Alabama State’s habit of forcing turnovers.
“We understand that we’ve fumbled this year more than normal and we’ve talked about it, but I guess I don’t want the guys to be worried about it,” Slater said.
After years of defeats to Tuskegee in the Turkey Day Classic and Alabama A&M in the Magic City Classic, Alabama State is closing in on its first sweep of top rivals since 1998.
“We haven’t won both classics in 12 years, so you’ve always looking for things to play for, and that’s one of them,” Barlow said.
Jacob Carpenter, The Birmingham News