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Pioneer Bowl Preview

By Lut Williams, Editor
Black College Sports Page

There's a lot at stake for both teams in the SIAC vs. CIAA matchup Saturday in Charlotte. For starters, both Tuskegee head coach Willie Slater and JCSU head coach Daryl McNeill are trying to put the finishing touches on turnaround seasons.

Slater is in the final throes of a successful first season after taking over from Rick Comegy, who led the Golden Tigers to ten dominant years of SIAC play before resigning to take the head coaching job at Jackson State.

The only thing Slater did not do this season was win the SIAC title that Comegy captured four times in his ten-year tenure. Even Comegy didn't do it in his first year. But Slater did get several big wins that should put him in good stead with the TU faithful.

Slater's troops handed four-time SIAC champ Albany State its only conference loss of the season, 17-10 on Oct. 21. He also guided the Tigers to a big 55-29 win over Morehouse in the 71st renewal of their storied rivalry. And just last week, he led TU to a its third straight win over another in-state rival, Alabama State, at the 83rd annual Turkey Day Classic on Thanksgiving Day in Montgomery, 24-17.

What he didn't do was beat Miles, a 31-20 loss, or Clark Atlanta, a 10-6 loss that cost them the SIAC title. All-in-all, he did well to get the Tigers back to the Pioneer Bowl, where they have played six times under Comegy, winning four.

McNeill's task was perhaps even more daunting. He had to stop a 24-game Golden Bulls' losing streak, the longest in the nation at the time, ten of which came during his winless 2005 first season.

He dispensed with the losing streak quickly, winning the first two games of the season, and went on to post six single-digit wins out of the seven games they won. Two of the losses, to Bowie State (14-13) and St. Augustine's (15-9) were also by single-digits before a 52-7 blowout loss to CIAA champ N. C. Central ended the season.

Wideout Marquis Belton has been the Golden Bulls' chief offensive weapon with 797 receiving yards and 5 TDs. Belton also doubles as a dangerous punt returner. DeAudra Dix, who also plays defensive back, was among the nation's leaders (6th, 29.4 ypr.) in kick returns.

Tuskegee won its last three games after the loss to Clark Atlanta with QB Kevin Huff averaging right at 300 yards of total offense per game and providing the offensive spark. Huff, the preseason all-SIAC QB, struggled early in the season as he adjusted to the new schemes implemented by Slater. Backup QB Jacary Atkinson was switched to wide receiver and became one of Huff's key targets towards the end of the season. Senior placekicker Roosevelt Echeverry led the SIAC in kick scoring with 61 points.