Albany State coach Mike White has a simple defensive philosophy.
He wants to turn opponents into one-dimensional offenses.
“We try to stop teams from trying to run the ball and force them to the air,” he said.
That’s worked exceptionally well this season for the Golden Rams (7-2, 7-0), who have ridden their defense to the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship game.
They will try to repeat as SIAC champs when they meet Tuskegee (8-2, 7-0) at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Ala.
Albany State, which won the East division, hasn’t lost since dropping a 20-12 decision to Tuskegee on Sept. 13.
The Golden Rams have won seven straight behind a defense that leads the SIAC in all the major defensive categories, including scoring (14 points), total (229.4 yards), rushing (84.1) and passing (145.3).
“This time of year, this is where you want to be,” White said. “We talked about that as a team in the preseason. When it was all said and done, we wanted to represent the East.”
Albany State’s defense is large and active.
Nose guard Damien Goosby (Rome) weighs 370 pounds and 300-pound defensive end Grover Stewart (Mitchell County) anchor the line. Linebacker Tavarius Washington (Burke County) is third in the SIAC with 80 tackles and fellow linebacker Larry Whitfield (Monroe) has 55.
“We’re going to have to do a good job,” Tuskegee coach Willie Slater said. “You’re not going to walk up to them and bump them and block them. They’re going to hustle to the ball.”
Offensively, Albany State relies on running back Jarvis Small (Brunswick), who led the SIAC with 1,129 yards and 12 touchdowns. He’s rushed for more than 100 yards in eight consecutive games, beginning with a 161-yard performance in the first game against Tuskegee.
“You’re always excited to have this opportunity,” White said. “When I was handed the trophy back in 2011 for being the division champ, yeah, you’re happy to get that trophy, but that’s not the trophy you want. That’s a little trophy. You want the big trophy, and that’s what we’ll be fighting for, and that’s what they’ll be fighting for.”
Blazers on fire
Valdosta State (7-2) is fifth and West Georgia (8-2) is sixth in this week’s Division II Super Region Two rankings. The top six teams from each super region advance to the national tournament.
The Blazers have won five consecutive games and are No. 25 in the American Football Coaches Association Division II poll.
Kaleb Nobles (Fitzgerald) likely will start at quarterback in place of Jake Medlock, who has a leg injury.
Nobles started and threw for 308 yards and four touchdowns in last week’s victory over UNC Pembroke to earn Gulf South Conference offensive player of the week honors.
Establishing a tradition
Reinhardt (6-3, 3-1 Mid-South Conference), which has won five games in a row, is No. 22 in this week’s NAIA Top 25.
The Eagles, a second-year program, are ranked for the first time this season and will finish with a winning record for the second straight season.
Reinhardt, which is No. 3 nationally in total offense (513.6 yards) and scoring (45.6 points), upset No. 19 Cumberland last week, knocking it out of the Top 25, and will play the new 19th-ranked team, Campbellsville (6-3), to close the regular season.
Shorter center Ben Peterson (Hillgrove) and West Georgia quarterback Dallas Dickey (Carrollton) are part of family trees rooted in athletics.
Peterson’s grandfather is former Florida State coach Bill Peterson and Dickey’s grandfather is former Florida coach Doug Dickey. They coached against each other in 1970, with Florida winning 38-27.
Their grandsons’ teams will play at 11 a.m. Saturday.
Contributing to the athletic coincidences, Daryl Dickey — Doug’s son and Dallas’ dad — is the athletic director at West Georgia and Bill Peterson — Bill Sr.’s son and Ben’s dad — is Shorter’s AD.
Around the state
Seth Hinsley (Norcross) needs 146 yards to become the West Georgia’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2001. He has 2,246 career rushing yards, fifth all-time at the school. … Berry linebacker Preston Stewart (Riverwood) was selected to the D3football.com team of the week after he had 15 tackles and three for losses last week. … Paine finished its first season in 52 years at 2-8 after a year-ending 45-34 win over Benedict. … West Georgia defensive tackle Tory Slater (Chapel Hill) had 11 tackles and 2.5 sacks last week. … Savannah State is tied with Columbia for the longest losing streak in the FCS at 19 games.
West Georgia at Shorter, 11 a.m.
Campbellsville at Reinhardt, noon
Ferrum at LaGrange, 1 p.m.
Warner at Mercer, 2 p.m.
N.C. A&T at Savannah State, 2 p.m.
Georgia Southern at Navy, 3:30 p.m.
Southeastern at Berry, 6 p.m.
Valdosta State at Florida Tech, 6 p.m.
Albany State vs. Tuskegee, 8 p.m. (at Montgomery, Ala.)