In talking with Savannah State star defensive end Marquis Smith – the NC Mutual BOXTOROW National Player of the Week – the Tigers always believed.
So while the HBCU football world was shocked by SSU’s 16-10 overtime victory over MEAC perennial power Bethune-Cookman on Saturday, the Tigers weren’t.
“It was no doubt in our mind that we were going to win the game,” said Smith a senior from District Heights, Md., who has been with the program for four years. “When it came down to it, we pulled through with the win.”
Only the players and coaches believed that the Tigers could win that game.
It’s not hard to understand why that is. This is a Savannah State program that has struggled not only since joining the MEAC in 2011, but also prior to that as an FCS Independent for many years. A poster child for the so-called “money games,” Savannah State lost by a combined 110-0 in its first two games of the season against Georgia Southern and Southern Miss. As a matter of fact in the last three seasons alone, SSU has been outscored 371-31.
But more importantly, this is only the third conference win for Savannah State since becoming a full-fledged member of the MEAC in 2011. Savannah State defeated North Carolina Central 33-30 in 2011. Its only other win in the MEAC other than Saturday was last year’s 37-27 victory over Florida A&M.
So how were the Tigers able to get it done?
New head coach Erik Raeburn has apparently brought a new mindset to the program, although it may not have been reflected in the Tigers first two games of the season.
Raeburn had success on the DIII level as the head coach at both Coe College and Wabash College, where he compiled a combined 135-39 record in 16 seasons. While there are many differences between DIII and FCS which not only include size and skill level, as well as not being able to receive scholarships, winning is not one of those differences and Raeburn is trying to bring that mentality to Savannah State.
Bringing Raeburn in “was the best decision for the program” according to Smith.
With the Tigers leading 10-7 midway through the fourth quarter, Anthony Williams’ two-yard touchdown run tied the game at 10-10. On the Tigers’ next possession they went three and out, giving the Wildcats the ball back with 4:49 remaining in the fourth quarter. The Wildcats gained 38 yards in their first four plays getting the ball down to the SSU 35.
But the Tigers defense stood firm, not allowing the Wildcats any yards and B-CU elected to attempt a 52-yard field goal that came up short with 1:40 remaining.
The Wildcats received the ball first in overtime as Tupac Isme rushed for five yards. But Smith forced Isme to fumble with Isme recovering his fumble back at the 30. Akevious Williams’ pass was then intercepted by Darrell Bonner, giving the Tigers possession of the football.
On the Tigers fourth possession, Cantrell Frazier ran nine yards into the end zone for the walk-off touchdown, propelling the Tigers to victory.
Was this game a function of Bethune-Cookman being down a bit this year? Four weeks into the season, the Wildcats, picked to finish second in the MEAC, have yet to win a game. Is Savannah State with Raeburn at the helm a lot better than people think?
Perhaps it’s a combination of the two. One thing is for sure; Savannah State is tied for first place atop the MEAC standings with a very winnable game at a winless Florida A&M team on Saturday.
Your thoughts could be read on this week’s FROM THE PRESS BOX TO PRESS ROW airing on a radio station near you.