TIGERVILLE, S.C. | The seventh-seeded Tuskegee University Golden Tigers have found a way to overcome deficits throughout the season, but the deficit they faced at the end of the first quarter in the second round of the NCAA Division II playoffs was too steep a hill to climb.
The Golden Tigers found themselves down by four scores after the first stanza to sixth-seeded North Greenville University, fought valiantly but came up short in the end 45-26 to end the season on the road.
North Greenville (9-4) jumped on top early when they kept the Tuskegee offense off the field for most of the first quarter, allowing the Golden Tigers just five plays from scrimmage en route to a 28-0 lead. The Crusaders scored on their first four drives of the game using a variety of different ways to get into the end zone and keep Tuskegee off balance.
Tuskegee (9-3) got on the board for the first time late in the first half and looked to have momentum on their side. After Osband Thompson stripped the ball away from a North Greenville ball carrier on the sideline, the Golden Tigers were set up at the North Greenville 46- yard line. They promptly went down the field in eight plays and used 3:27 on the clock, before Jerome Lewis punched it in from one-yard out to trim the deficit to 28-7 with 1:56 to play in the half.
However, North Greenville went right down the field and seized momentum back with a one-yard run to take a 35-7 lead into the locker room, and that's when things changed.
Tuskegee came out in the second half and scored on their first two possessions of the second half to trim the deficit to just two scores. The Golden Tigers took their opening possession of the half, promptly marching 75 yards in nine plays and using just 1:36 on the clock. The drive culminated when Kevin Lacey hit Javarrius Cheatham from eight yards out to trim the deficit to 35-13.
Quavon Taylor gave Tuskegee possession right back on the next play when he picked off a pass up the middle. The interception set Tuskegee up on the North Greenville 28-yard line, and on the first play from scrimmage, Lacey hit a streaking Dekendrick Moncrief down the sideline for a touchdown with 10:24 to play in the third quarter. The score trimmed the deficit to 35-20 early in the quarter.
The score stayed that way until the Golden Tigers had a chance to trim the deficit even further in the fourth quarter. The Golden Tigers drove 56 yards to the North Greenville 12-yard line where they faced a fourth and three, before the North Greenville defense came up big with a stop forcing a turnover on downs.
North Greenville put the game out of reach with two fourth quarter touchdowns, before Desmond Reece scored his final touchdown of his Golden Tigers' career with 1:07 remaining in the game.
Lacey finished the day 22-of-36 with three touchdowns and a pair of interceptions. The senior finished with 276 yards through the air. He hit Cheatham nine times for 148 yards and a touchdown, while Reece finished with nine catches for 68 yards and a touchdown.
The offense finished the day with 353 yards of total offense, while North Greenville finished with 511 (most of that in the first quarter in which they totaled 227 yards). Thompson finished with 14 tackles in the game for Tuskegee, while Kalil Gray finished with 12. Carl Matthews had 10 and Quavon Taylor nine in the loss for the Golden Tigers.
Tuskegee finishes the year 9-3, and achieved the highest ranking ever in the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) coaches poll at number five. They also qualified for the NCAA Division II playoffs for the fourth consecutive year and advanced to the at least the second round for the second consecutive year.