A look at Savannah State’s record (1-9 overall, 0-7 MEAC) indicates a program still struggling to find its way on the Football Championship Subdivision level.
A loss Saturday at South Carolina State (4-6, 3-4) would mean a third consecutive double-digit-loss season for the Tigers, who are 20-117 since moving up to FCS, and a 15th straight conference defeat since joining to the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference two years ago. Savannah State is also ranked last in the conference in 16 offensive, defensive and special teams’ categories.
From a head coach’s perspective, however, the Tigers’ Steve Davenport believes the program’s future is bright and a victory over the Bulldogs would provide much-needed momentum heading into the off-season.
“We made progress,” he said during Tuesday’s final MEAC teleconference. “It’s difficult to see that in terms of the scores, but we’ve tremendous progress here and I think our program is heading in the right direction. Obviously, there are some pieces in the puzzle that need to be filled and that’s my responsibility and finish collecting those pieces and that’s what recruiting is all about. But the team has gotten better.”
Davenport points to a roster that has just four seniors and is loaded with freshmen and sophomores. He sees solid play at his cornerback position and potential galore from a young offensive line. Most important, he believes the Tigers have given him a full 60 minutes of fight in most of their games, including the two routs at the hands of Division I foes Oklahoma State (84-0) and Florida State (55-0).
“No one is satisfied with the record, but from the coaching perspective, I can see the program getting a whole lot better,” Davenport said.
Savannah State is 1-10 all time against S.C. State, but the lone win occurred at Oliver C. Dawson Stadium in 2001. The Tigers also played the Bulldogs relatively close last season in a 20-10 season-ending loss.
Davenport sees the contest as more than just a conference match-up between two teams seeking to enter the off-season on a positive note.
“They’re our biggest rival, closest in terms of proximity just up the road,” Davenport said. “It ought to be a tremendous game. (S.C. State head football coach) Buddy (Pough) has a tremendous program and we’re looking forward to going up there and battling South Carolina State and then go into recruiting. So the process doesn’t stop. But we’re getting ready to play South Carolina State. It would be a really good win if we could really pull it out and go into next season with a boost.”
Savannah State’s lone win this season took place Oct. 20 at home against Edward Waters College of the NAIA by a 42-35 score. Since then, the Tigers have surrendered leads in two of their last three losses.
But Davenport remains optimistic about Saturday.
“I think you’ve got to see every game as winnable,” Davenport said. “The minute you go into a game thinking you can’t win, you’ve already sealed your fate. We’re going to go and prepare starting today with practice and prepare to go and win the game. I’m sure Buddy is going to do the same with his team and we’ll match wits. But anytime you’ve got a rivalry game and I think this is in essence (as long as) Savannah State stays in the MEAC, this will become our biggest rivalry game. I think anytime that’s the case, you’ve got emotions involved and, a lot of times, these kids know each other. So it’ll be that kind of game and we’re certainly not going to work thinking we’re going to lose the game. We’re going to work to figure out a way to go win the game and then the kids make the plays and hopefully get an opportunity in the fourth quarter to do that.”
Kickoff is 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Oliver C. Dawson Stadium in Orangeburg.
earns national honor
North Carolina A&T defensive back D’vonte Graham’s effort on Saturday not only propelled the Aggies to their first winning season in nine years and first win over South Carolina State since 2000, but earned him the Co-Special Teams Player of the Week award from The Sports Network.
The junior totaled two blocked field goals and returned a lateral pass fumbled by Caleb Davis into a 10-yard touchdown as N.C. A&T defeated South Carolina State 17-7. Graham shared the honor with Florida A&M placekicker Chris Varnadore who tied a single-game school record with five field goals in the Rattlers’ 22-21 win over North Carolina Central.
Contact the writer: firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 803-533-5547. For more information about S.C. State athletics, read Grant’s blog, Following the Bulldogs, at thebulldogzone.com. Follow Grant on Twitter@TandDSports.