Savannah State football program set to play final D-I game
By Travis Jaudon
Posted Nov 16, 2018 at 9:56 PM Updated Nov 16, 2018 at 9:56 PM
Since joining the NCAA Division I ranks in 2000, the Savannah State football team has been competing in the Football Championship Series; and since 2014, the Tigers have played in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference for all sports.
The football team will play its final game as an FCS and MEAC member on Saturday at South Carolina State. For 18 SSU seniors, it will be the last time they’ll suit up in the Savannah State blue and orange.
Savannah State (2-7, 1-5 in MEAC) will travel to Orangeburg, S.C., for the season finale versus the South Carolina State Bulldogs (4-5, 3-2), with kickoff set for 1:30 p.m.
For third-year SSU coach Erik Raeburn, the season has been disappointing, but he does find positives for the program moving forward as the Tigers prepare to transition back to Division II for 2019.
“Obviously, I knew we had a lot of work to do,” Raeburn said Tuesday when asked to reflect on his first three years leading the Tigers.
“We were at the bottom of the conference (before Raeburn’s arrival in 2016) by a pretty significant margin. But I guess I’m just not one of those coaches that can do like a five-year plan. I think every game there’s a way we can win if we execute our game plan properly. I think we’re better (than before), but just the not winning, and only playing everybody tough, that’s still frustrating.”
The Tiger offense has been the epitome of frustration for Raeburn and his staff all season. SSU is last in the MEAC, averaging 13.0 points per contest and No. 9 in rushing offense (138.9 rushing yards per game). The Tigers, having used D’Vonn Gibbons as the starter at quarterback for the last three games, rank last in the league, averaging 100.4 passing yards per game.
Gibbons, a sophomore dual-threat from Stone Mountain, has rushed for a team-high 417 yards while throwing for 714 more in nine games this year.
South Carolina State quarterback Tyrece Nick, a sophomore, leads the MEAC in touchdowns with 10 scores (all rushing) and ranks No. 2 with an 88.2 rushing yards per game.
SSU freshman linebacker Walter Yates has become a third high-volume tackler for the defense, which ranks third in the league in total defense (334.1 yards allowed per game). Yates has racked up 34 of his 54 tackles in the last three games, including four of his seven tackles for loss. He has fit well alongside leading tackler and Savannah native senior Mulik Simmons. A Bible Baptist graduate, Simmons has had a career year with 58 tackles (seven for loss) and two interceptions.
A mainstay on the Tiger defense for the last few years, senior defensive end Stefen Banks will enter the game as the SSU career all-time leader in sacks (22.5) and third in tackles with 220.