The rematch was another mismatch.
Tuskegee routed Fort Valley State during the regular season by forcing turnovers and breaking off big plays. The Golden Tigers used the same formula to wallop the Wildcats 55-24 Saturday night in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship game.
Fort Valley lost 49-18 at Tuskegee on Sept. 29 when it committed five turnovers and allowed five plays of at least 40 yards. The Wildcats vowed they’d be sharper in the second meeting but turnovers and defensive breakdowns doomed them again.
“Once again, a repeat,” Fort Valley coach Donald Pittman said. “Turnovers and big plays.”
Fort Valley (8-3) gained 455 yards to 477 for Tuskegee and overcame a slow start to lead 15-13 early in the second quarter. The Wildcats ultimately couldn’t overcome four giveaways and 331 total yards and three touchdowns by Tuskegee running back Derrick Washington.
The Wildcats won the East division with a victory over Albany State on the final weekend of the regular season. They couldn’t prevent Tuskegee from finishing a dominating year in the SIAC with another championship.
Tuskegee (9-1) won its ninth consecutive game and earned its 26th SIAC title overall and eighth since 2000. The Golden Tigers won all seven of their league games during the regular season, including five victories by at least two touchdowns and three shutouts.
Fort Valley senior quarterback Antonio Henton’s collegiate journey ended on a down note. Henton had three interceptions, two of which Tuskegee returned for touchdowns.
Henton was the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s all-classifications player of the year in 2005. He transferred to play for his hometown college after stops at Ohio State and Georgia Southern.
Henton could have earned a medical red shirt last year but opted to return to play after suffering an injury early in the season.
“I wish we could have gotten a championship but I don’t regret coming,” Henton said. “I don’t regret playing last year. I put everything in God’s hands and He will lead me on the right path from here.”
Henton’s 62-yard touchdown pass to Travis Richmond early in the second quarter gave the Wildcats a 15-13 lead. Tuskegee buried the Wildcats withtwo touchdowns in the second quarter and three more in the third.
Tuskegee cornerback Adam Lucas, a Riverdale product, set up the first score of the game with an interception and returned another one 78 yards for a touchdown and 27-15 halftime lead. Washington opened the second half with a 75-yard touchdown run and his 74-yard touchdown catch gave Tuskegee a 41-18 lead. And then Tuskegee’s William Buford returned an interception 49 yards for a touchdown and 48-18 advantage.
Washington averaged 18.4 yards on 18 touches. The SIAC said Washington, a transfer from Missouri, will be named the league’s offensive player of the year on Monday. Washington also is a candidate for the Harlon Hill Trophy, which is awarded to the top player in Division II.
“Great player,” Pittman said. “We had bull’s eye on him and still couldn’t stop him.”
Fort Valley most likely won’t earn one of six regional berths in the Division II playoffs. The Wildcats are 8-3 after finishing 2-8 in 2011.
“We came a long way,” Henton said. “It’s sad to end like this. It’s tough.”