The Montgomery AdvertiserGameDay Preview: Tuskegee at North Alabama
Ethan Bernal, Montgomery Advertiser 11:04 p.m. CST November 27, 2015
1. The bigger picture: Tuskegee recorded its first playoff win in school history with a 26-16 victory over Catawba College last week. The win revamped a team that was down after missing out on the conference championship and had to wait to see if it’d even make the playoffs.
“It was exciting. Getting our first win out the way really meant a lot,” quarterback Kevin Lacey said. “The momentum for us really picked up and it’s carrying over to practice. Guys see the bigger picture now. A lot of guys were down about not winning the conference, but you have to let that go. There’s a bigger task at hand. You can prove you’re the best in Division II, and that second opportunity means a lot.”
2. Familiar faces: Not only is it a big game because it’s the second round of the playoffs, the game against North Alabama also has special meaning to Tuskegee coach Willie Slater. Slater was the offensive coordinator at UNA from 1992-99, winning three national championships. His quarterback at the time, Cody Gross, is now the offensive coordinator for the Lions.
“It’s always special to go to North Alabama. That’s a special place for me,” Slater said. “There’s a lot of special people there. Not only on the football staff, but the SID, athletic trainers, I know those people very well.”
It’s also a chance to redeem himself at his old school. Tuskegee’s first playoff game in school history was at North Alabama in 2013.
“It was a really special game playing up there for me. I’ve been on national championship teams that played on that field, and for Tuskegee to play its first playoff game at that place was really special to me. And I had never lost a playoff game there,” Slater said.
3. Hawkins coming through: To a man, everyone involved with the Tuskegee football program has nothing but good things to say about senior receiver Travis Hawkins. His contributions have been mostly limited to blocking, but he’s come through with his best two games of the year the past two weeks.
“I thought that was awesome for him,” Slater said. “No one deserves it any more than he does, I promise you that.”
His 67 receiving yards against Catawba last week led the team, coming off a season-best 74-yard performance the week before.
“That just motivates me when you have a team player like Travis. He does that in practice, so it’s never unexpected when it comes from him on Saturday,” linebacker Jewell Ratliff said. “That’s him week in and week out, that’s what he does. You’ll never get negativity from him, he’s like a spiritual healer on the team. That’s what he does, so it’s never surprising.”
4. Getting it right: Last week’s game against Catawba was eerily similar to the game before — a loss to Miles College — to coach Willie Slater. But instead of blowing a halftime lead, the Golden Tigers learned from their mistakes to get the win.
“A lot of the things that happened in that game was like it was replicated the game before,” Slater said. “A lot of the situations were the same but we turned it around and played it differently this game.”
Tuskegee RB Dennis Norfleet vs North Alabama LB C.J. Jackson
Norfleet led the Golden Tigers on the ground with an 88-yard game on a career-high 18 carries. Norfleet leads the team with 616 rushing yards this season, but is going up against a linebacker corps led by C.J. Jackson, who coach Slater called “very special.”
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Jewell Ratliff, LB
Sr., 6-1, 238
Another 10-tackle day, and another interception return for a touchdown. At this point you just expect it from Ratliff. He’s the unquestioned leader on this team, and the reigning SIAC player of the year will have the defense right in Round 2.
Tuskegee is back where it all started. The Golden Tigers travel back to North Alabama — where they played their first ever playoff game — for their first second-round game. Coach Willie Slater has ties to the opposing sideline, which just adds fuel to the fire. Tuskegee continues to make school history, and keeps on advancing. Tuskegee 24, North Alabama 20
WHEN: 11:30 a.m. today
WHERE: Florence, Ala.
RECORDS: Tuskegee (9-2, 7-1 SIAC, 4-1 West); North Alabama (9-2, 6-1 GSC)
ON THE AIR: TV – none; Radio – Tuskegee Sports Network
TWITTER: @mgmsports @MyTUAthletics
BY THE NUMBERS
1: Tuskegee earned its first playoff win in school history last week.
3: Tuskegee coach Willie Slater won three national championships as a coach for North Alabama.
20: The Golden Tigers are 8-1 when scoring 20 points this season.http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com/story/sports/college/tuskegee-university/2015/11/27/tuskegee-playoff-preview-round/76484864/