Morehouse heads to Albany State with title in sights

The victory against Tuskegee last weekend didn’t secure a championship or set any kind of milestone for Morehouse.

Instead, the traditional water-cooler dousing that Morehouse players gave coach Rich Freeman after their 17-14 victory symbolized washing away what Freeman had called the “curse” of Tuskegee.

The Maroon Tigers ended a seven-game losing streak to Tuskegee. Now Morehouse can stay on track for its second SIAC title since 1923 with a victory at Albany State on Saturday.

The Golden Rams won the 2010 SIAC championship after a come-from-behind victory over Morehouse. Albany State or Tuskegee has won every SIAC title since 2000, but Morehouse has a chance to break through.

The Maroon Tigers (5-1, 3-0) are assured of a spot in the SIAC championship game at Lakewood Stadium if they beat East division-rival Albany State (4-2, 2-1) and then win their final three games.

“They are very good,” Albany State coach Mike White said. “They certainly are playing better than anyone in the conference.”

Albany State provides Morehouse another chance to mitigate some bad memories. The Golden Rams denied Morehouse a SIAC title with a 13-12 victory in 2010.

Morehouse was 5-1 in the conference at the time, and visiting Albany State was undefeated. The Maroon Tigers led 12-0 in the fourth quarter, but Albany State quarterback Stanley Jennings (Marietta) led two scoring drives, including a touchdown pass with 18 seconds left.

The Golden Rams went on to finish the regular season undefeated for their fifth SIAC title under White. Morehouse qualified for the Division II playoffs for the first time in its history, but felt like it let the SIAC title slip away.

“That left a bitter taste in our mouths, and here we are back in the same [circumstance],” Freeman said. “This could be a sweet victory for us. It could vindicate us from the hurt and the pain that we all suffered last year.”

Freeman called Jennings, the reigning league MVP, “a champion quarterback.” He’s a threat to run and pass, but Freeman said he believes Jennings prefers to air it out.

“We are going to try to do some things to try to confuse him and see if we can get him to turn the football over,” Freeman said.

The Morehouse defense came through after Tuskegee gained an early 14-0 lead. The Maroon Tigers held Tuskegee scoreless in the second half and scored the go-ahead touchdown on quarterback Byron Ingram’s run with less than eight minutes left.

Morehouse running back David Carter said finally beating Tuskegee boosted the team’s confidence.

“It felt like it was a curse or something, especially when we started down 14-0,” he said. “We fought back hard, and that’s how I know our team is where it needs to be.”

Freeman ended a personal 10-game losing streak to Tuskegee that included six years as an assistant at different schools and four years at Morehouse.

“I made sure I told the team after the game, ‘Thank you,” Freeman said. “That’s our nemesis, our Achilles’ heel. We feel like we are capable of beating anybody now. Getting past that mountain, we really feel like the sky is the limit now.”

Morehouse is enjoying its best era of football since the 1920s. The Maroon Tigers won four consecutive SIAC titles from 1920-23 and then didn’t win again until sharing the championship with three other teams in 1991.

Carter said there’s renewed excitement for football among students and former players.

“To be part of a winning tradition now, it feels great,” he said.