Tuskegee is on the road for another football game. What else is new?
After enduring much of a season away from home because its home field was being replaced and even having to leave town to practice on occasion, the Golden Tigers have made one more bus ride. What’s new is this one is to Columbia, South Carolina, to play Benedict for the SIAC title.
“For us, it’s like the opportunity to play the championship game that’s the most important thing that we are here,” Tuskegee Coach head coach Reginald Ruffin. “And like I told the guys, since we’re here, we might as well win it. No need of coming here not winning it.”
OVERCOMING TOUGH TIMES
In light of all the road trips, Ruffin has preached resilience to his team, and his choir heard the sermon because both he and they have been through a lot recently. and back when he was coaching at Miles before coming to Tuskegee.
Ruffin’s wife died of breast cancer in 2017. That same year, an assistant coach died from cancer and a brain tumor, and later, another assistant lost his young child. It was a devastating stretch, but Ruffin didn’t falter.
“You just can’t give up and you’ve got to keep fighting, keep battling,” he says. “And that’s the resilience that I have and I tell the kids that I want them to have. And they have that.
“We can’t make excuses because things don’t go our way or the ball and the ball don’t bounce in our court. We just got to keep battling, keep crawling and keep scratching. That’s us,” he says.”
With upgrades being done to the facility, Tuskegee spent a lot of time on the highway even before going to a game. Because its practice field is only 65 yards long, the team worked out a partnership with Auburn which allowed them to scrimmage at the school’s indoor practice facility. But more problems surfaced.
Tuskegee endured much the same problems Florida A&M ran into before its season opener against North Carolina in late August. Ruffin found out before the Fort Valley State game, which was played in Montgomery, that as many as 16 players were ineligible for action. The Golden Tigers lost that game, 21-6.
The next week, Tuskegee was headed to a game at Hampton when the team received word that some players were being reinstated. That news was too late for that week and the result was a 42-10 spanking.
“But, unfortunately, we were already in South Carolina when that happened and all those guys were still back at Tuskegee,” Ruffin says. “They weren’t going to help us, either. being at home, even though they were reinstated.”
The team’s fortunes turned with a 13-10 victory over West Alabama, the launching point for the eight-game winning streak that has them contending for the championship. There were only two practices on the new field before the Golden Tigers celebrated a literal homecoming by beating Miles, 26-23.
GETTING TO THE TITLE
The next obstacle for Tuskegee is a prolific Benedict offense. Ruffin’s young defense is surrendering an average of three touchdowns a game, so stopping the other bunch of Tigers will be a chore.
“The biggest thing is, we’ve got to minimize our mistakes, our busted coverage, our communication” he says. “We’ve got to do a better job communicating and everybody being on the same page.”
Offense might not be too hard to come by. Seniors Taurean Taylor and Donte Edwards have collected more than 1,400 yards rushing and accounted for 15 touchdowns. Bryson Williams, a junior, has thrown for nearly 1,200 yards and nine scores. Williams’ favorite target has been freshman Antonio Meeks, who’s caught 28 passes and scored four times.
“You don’t get a chance to play in a lot of championship games. Then when you do, you have to make the best of them,” Ruffin says. “This is my seventh SIAC championship game appearance … so I’m very excited for this opportunity. If we can fortunate in winning, that will be five championships out of seven tries and that’s a great feat for me as a coach.”