COLUMBIA S.C. – In a special game played on a special day, it was only fitting that special teams took center stage in Benedict’s 28-20 victory over Fort Valley State on Sunday afternoon in the Palmetto Capital City Classic in Charlie W. Johnson Stadium.
The Tigers scored on a 1-yard run by quarterback Dominique Harris with 3:58 left in the game to seal the victory after Benedict recovered a FVSU fumbled punt at the 1. That capped off a wild night that saw the Wildcats score three touchdowns off of Benedict fumbles, including a bad long snap to the punter that gave Fort Valley State a 20-14 lead with 24 seconds left in the third quarter. The Tigers also blocked a FVSU 27-yard field goal attempt with 15 seconds left in the first half and allowed Benedict to take a 14-7 lead at the half.
“It was just the bounce of the ball. I’m not sure what happened, I’m just glad it came in our favor,” Benedict head coach Mike White said of the fourth-quarter muffed punt. “I was just tired of making blunders on special teams, it was about time for them to make one. I’m just glad it bounced our way and gave us the winning score there.”
Benedict improves to 2-1 on the season and 1-0 in SIAC play. Fort Valley State, which has played in the last two SIAC championship games, falls to 1-3 overall and 0-2 in the SIAC.
Harris finished the game completing 16-of-22 passes for 247 yards and two touchdowns. He also led the Tigers in rushing with 25 yards on 15 carries, but fumbled the ball three times which led to a pair of Wildcat touchdowns.
“It was a hard-fought game. I’m proud of the guys the way they fought back once we got behind,” White said. “They showed a lot of character when they did that. Being up 14 and losing the lead, and saying they won’t be denied and came back and won it. I’m not happy with the turnovers, I’m not happy with special teams, but I’m glad we ground it out for the win.”
Amari Andrews led the Benedict defense with 11 total tackles, including eight solo, and was named the MVP of the Classic. Rickym Holmes had three tackles, including Benedict’s only sack of the game against elusive FVSU quarterback Garrel Quainton, who finished with 126 yards passing and 60 yards rushing. Christian Taylor blocked the field goal and Olajuwone Smith blocked an extra point.
“I’m glad we pulled it out. That shows a little bit about us,” White said. “When they got down, the defense just got excited and said they were going to make sure that they took care of business.”
Danye Washington had five receptions for 90 yards, while Johnny Willis had five catches for 58 yards. Drelon Freeman caught three passes for 54 yards, including a go-ahead 30-yard touchdown pass from Harris that gave Benedict a 21-20 lead with 13:11 remaining in the game.
The Tigers took the opening kickoff and drove 71 yards on seven plays with Harris calling his own number and running in from 11-yards out for the game’s first score. After forcing the Wildcats to punt, the Tigers marched 82 yards on seven plays, with Harris completing an 8-yard pass to Jemine Yesin with 4:39 remaining in the first quarter for a quick 14-0 lead.
Late in the second quarter, Harris was sacked and stripped of the ball. Glendrell Byrd scooped up the ball for the Wildcats and returned it 17 yards for a touchdown to cut the lead to 14-7.
In the third quarter, the Tigers turned it over again on another Harris sack and fumble after a bad snap from center. The Wildcats needed just four plays to move 26 yards, with Quainton finishing the drive with a 3-yard touchdown run. The PAT was good to tie the game at 14 with 3:09 on the clock.
On Benedict’s next series, another bad snap, this time to punter Mario Trejo, led to an 11-yard fumble recovery by Camron Young with 24 seconds left in the third quarter. The PAT was blocked, giving the Wildcats a 20-14 lead.
The Tigers quickly responded, moving 75 yards on just five plays. The key play was a 30-yard pass from Harris to Freeman, who caught the pass over his shoulder in the far corner of the end zone. Rigoberto Tinoco’s PAT was good to give the Tigers a 21-20 lead with 13:11 remaining in the game.
That set up the key fumbled punt recovery and the Tigers held off a late FVSU drive to clinch the victory.