The first conference kingpins of 2017 will be crowned Saturday when the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) and Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) stage Championship Games in Fort Valley, Ga. and Salem, Va. respectively.
East Division winner Fort Valley State and West Division champ Tuskegee will square off at Wildcat Stadium, home of the FVSU Wildcats, at 2 p.m. Saturday, in the 7th SIAC Championship Game. The title game will be streamed live on ESPN3.
The CIAA title game with match undefeated North Division champ Virginia State against South Division winner Fayetteville State at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at Salem Stadium in Salem, Va. That game will be carried live on ASPIRE TV.
FVSU (5-4, 5-1 SIAC E), who finished tied with Benedict (7-2, 5-1 E) for the best record in the East, won the division title based on a 31-28 head-to-head win in overtime vs. Benedict on Sept. 23.
It is the second straight year in as many seasons under head coach Kevin Porter that the FVSU Wildcats have won the East and advanced to the title game. Last season, Porter’s troops narrowly edged West Division winner Kentucky State 33-30 in two overtimes for the conference crown.
It will be FVSU’s third championship game appearance. The Wildcats, under former head coach Donald Pittman, lost in the 2012 title game to Tuskegee, 55-24.
Tuskegee, under 12-year veteran head coach Willie Slater, is back in the championship game for the third time overall and first time since beating Albany State for the 2014 crown. Slater and the Golden Tigers have won six championships during his tenure, two in championship games (2012 and 2014).
FVSU and Tuskegee had six common SIAC opponents this year. Tuskegee finished 5-1 against that slate while FVSU was 4-2. Both lost to Albany State. Tuskegee beat Miles last week (50-20) to clinch the division title and FVSU fell to the Golden Bears 29-10 way back on Sept. 16.
What those results mean headed into Saturday’s title game is anybody’s guess. Both teams are relatively young and are pretty evenly matched. Tuskegee averages 25.6 points per game while FVSU is at 25.2. Defensively, Tuskegee gives up 19.1 ppg., while FVSU is a 24.4.
FVSU is led on offense by junior lefty quarterback Slade Jarman, a Mississippi Valley State transfer who passed for 1,640 yards with 14 TDs and just five interceptions. He led the SIAC in passing efficiency (141.5) and was second in passing yards (182.2 ypg.) and total offense 199.0 ypg.).
Junior Chauncey Jackson (399 yards, 3 TDs) leads the ground attack. Sophomore Loren Smothers (35 rec., 413 yards, 3 TDs) is Jarman’s top target.
Freshman QB Jamarcus Ezell (1,105 passing yards, 7 TDs, 4 ints.) leads the Tuskegee offense. The TU ground game is led by explosive junior Hoderick Lowe (701 yards, 8 TDs) who averages a league best 7.9 yards per carry. Junior Javarrius Cheatham (22 rec., 3 TDs) and sophomore Peyton Ramzy (12 rec., 3 TDs) are the top pass catchers.
With a win, Tuskegee has a good chance of getting into the NCAA Div. II playoff field. The Golden Tigers are ranked 9th in Super Region II going into the game. Eight teams from the region make the 32-team playoff field. FVSU is unranked and is unlikely to get in even with a win.
A pair of second-year coaches will be squaring off in the CIAA title game as Reggie Barlow brings his undefeated BCSP No. 3 Virginia State Trojans (9-0, 7-0 CIAA N) into Salem to face Richard Hayes and the Fayetteville State Broncos (6-4, 5-2 CIAA S). Both teams enter the championship game coming off narrow come from-behind division-clinching wins Saturday.
VSU scored in the final minutes to defeat Virginia Union 40-39 to remain undefeated and win the North Division crown. FSU needed a last-second miss of a field goal by Winston-Salem State to escape with a 23-22 win that gave the Broncos the South Division title.
Versus six common CIAA opponents, VSU and FSU have somewhat similar results. The biggest differences are that FSU dropped decisions to Elizabeth City State (45-42), Virginia Union (47-40) and Bowie State (64-31) during a four-game losing streak early in the season while VSU beat the trio.
The game will feature two star running backs in dynamic VSU senior Trenton Cannon and FSU sophomore Stevie Green.
Cannon (5-11, 185) leads the CIAA and is second in Div. II football in rushing at 154.1 yards per game (1,387 yards) averaging 7.9 yards per carry with 14 rushing TDs. He is also leads the CIAA and is second in the nation in kickoff returns (36.3 yards per return) with two TDs. Cannon may be the biggest black college NFL prospect this offseason.
Green (6-1, 190), who rushed for over 1,000 yards as a freshman, is third in the CIAA with 1,113 yards (111.3 ypg.) and 14 TDs. Green is also the team’s top pass catcher with 25 receptions for 176 yards and 2 TDs.
Young quarterbacks helm both teams. VSU redshirt sophomore Cordelral Cook (1,353 passing yards, 9 TDs, 3 ints., 749 rushing yards, 17 TDs) has taken most of the snaps for the Trojans though junior Niko Johnson (497 passing yards, 7 TDs, 2 ints.) has played in all nine games. The FSU signal-caller is freshman Richard Latimer who has passed for 1,074 yards and 6 TDs with 9 interceptions.
FSU will have the tough task of slowing down the high-powered VSU offense that averages 487 yards and 43 points per game and penetrating through a VSU defense that gives up CIAA-bests of 19.9 points and 90 rushing yards per contest.
VSU is ranked third in NCAA Div. II Super Region II is all but assured of a playoff berth regardless of Saturday’s outcome. FSU is not in the top ten in the region and even with a win is unlikely to get a playoff berth.