TUSKEGEE, Ala. – Winston-Salem State closed the deal this time.
The Rams had an inspired second-half performance on their way to a 23-20 win over Tuskegee on Saturday afternoon at Cleve L. Abbott Memorial Alumni Stadium.
After opening the season with two straight losses where they wilted in the second half, this time was different.
The Rams scored their first touchdown of the fourth quarter this season when running back Farrell Murchison scored from 1 yard out. Pavel Buenaventura made the point-after attempt to give the Rams a 23-13 lead early in the fourth quarter.
The Rams had 325 yards of offense with no turnovers as Graves was 15 of 28 passing for 176 yards with a touchdown throwing and a touchdown running. Running back Quarderman Sloane had six carries for 52 yards and Murchison had 18 carries for 42 yards but his three carries at the end of the game was enough to run the clock out.
Robert Massey, the interim head coach of the Rams, said he was proud of how they battled in the second half. He also said that the team decided to dedicate the win to Stephen A. Smith of ESPN, who was honored on Friday by having an athletic scholarship at WSSU named after him.
"We did play a lot better in the second half and that’s something we didn’t do, obviously, in our first two games,” Massey said by phone after the game. “I did feel like this was a buy-in win because we needed something good to happen to us so we’re grateful to get out of here with this win.”
Massey said there’s plenty his team needs to work on but he wasn’t going to dwell on that immediately.
“We really are going to enjoy this for a little while, especially on this long bus ride home,” he said referring to the eight-hour bus ride home. “I’m just happy for my coaches and our players because we’ve been harping on closing these games out and we did that.”
Massey said that it was a big week at WSSU with the festivities surrounding Smith and the Red Sea of Sound appearing on Smith's ESPN show "First Take."
"I think it was big that we got this win and dedicated it to Stephen A.," Massey said. "He knows the value and importance of all HBCU's so this win was for him."
Midway through the fourth quarter with a 10-point lead the Tigers tried to move the ball through the pass but Omar Baker Jr. made a big interception for the Rams. The interception came with 12 minutes to go in the game but the Rams’ offense stalled and they were forced to punt.
The Tigers drove down and got a 35-yard touchdown pass from quarterback JaMarcus Ezell to Peyton Ramzy with 8:23 to go in the game that cut the Rams’ lead to 23-20.
The Rams got the ball back, but once again the offense stalled giving the ball back to the Tigers but it was on their own 10 yard line after a good punt by Graves.
The Tigers got the ball with seven minutes to go, but a sack by linebacker Ta’Shaun Taylor of the Rams helped stopped a drive and forced a punt.
With 2:31 left in the game the Rams had the ball and the lead. Murchison had three straight carries that netted a first down and the Rams ran out the clock for their first victory of the season.
The Tigers scored on their first possession of the third quarter on a 29-yard field goal from Arnes Huskic to cut the Rams’ lead to 16-13.
The two teams exchanged field goals in the first quarter. Buenaventura made a 27-yard field goal for the Rams on their first possession but the Tigers responded with a field goal. Huskic countered with a 50-yard field goal late in the first quarter.
The Rams took a 10-3 lead early in the second quarter when quarterback Graves scored on a 10-yard run up the middle. Graves faked a handoff out of the shotgun, then went through a hole to the Rams the lead at 10-3 after Buenaventura’s point-after attempt was good.
The Rams had a chance to pick up momentum after a Daryus Skinner interception in the second quarter. It was Skinner’s second interception of the season.
The offense drove to the Tigers’ 2-yard line and had a first and goal, but then had four straight false start penalties and eventually gave up the ball on downs with three minutes to go in the half.
The Tigers got the ball back on their own 25-yard line but another interception by Ta’Shaun Taylor gave the ball back to the Rams. On the interception defensive lineman Yaakima Bell deflected the pass and Taylor made the interception to set up the Rams’ next touchdown. Taylor also had two sacks for the Rams.
Three plays later Graves hit wide receiver Quincy Jackson with a 31-yard touchdown pass. The point-after attempt was missed by Buenaventura with 1:33 left in the half.
The Tigers came back to score when Ezell hit Laderell Pettway with a 25-yard touchdown with 25 seconds left in the half to cut the Rams’ lead to 16-10 at the break.
Coach Willie Slater, who is in his 14th season at Tuskegee, now has a 43-9 record in home games.
The Rams will be on the road again on Saturday as they open CIAA play at Virginia Union with a 1 p.m. game at Hovey Field.
WSSU 3 13 0 7 - 23
Tuskegee 3 7 3 7 - 20
W – Buenaventura 27-yard field goal
T – Huskic 50-yard field goal
W – Graves 10 run (Buenaventura kick)
W – Jackson 31 touchdown pass from Graves (kick failed)
T – Pettway 25 pass from Ezell (Huskic kick)
T – Huskic 29-yard field goal
W – Murchison 1 run (Buenaventura kick)
T – Ramzy 35 pass from Ezell (Huskic kick)
A - 2,506