Albany, GA – The Carroll McCray Era at North Greenville began on a low note as the North Greenville University football team dropped its 2012 season opener to Albany State University 24-12 on Saturday night.
In a rematch of last year’s NCAA First Round Playoff matchup, the Golden Rams got the revenge they were looking for as big plays made for the demise of the Crusaders.
North Greenville and Albany State each punted on their first possession of the game. However, on just the second offensive series, the Golden Rams put the ball in the end zone on the second play of the drive. ASU running back Nathan Hoyte scored his first touchdown of the day with a 47-yard scamper into to put the Golden Rams up 7-0 early.
The Crusaders and Golden Rams continued to trade possessions for much of the first half until sophomore defensive back Taylor Anderson picked off a pass from David Kooi and returned it 56 yards to the NGU 44-yard line to give the Crusader offense positive field position. The offense was able to put together a 10-play, 35-yard drive that ended when sophomore kicker Justin Gravely put the ball through the uprights from 37 yards out to make the score 7-3 in favor of Albany State.
In the second quarter, the two teams continued to flip flop field position as the punters for both teams got a workout until Albany State kicked a 26-yard field goal to go into the half with a 10-3 lead.
After some halftime adjustments by both teams, Albany State began the second half just as they had the first as Hoyte scored his second touchdown of the day on a 34-yard run just three minutes into the third quarter to give the Golden Rams a 17-3 lead. The Crusader defense once again helped cut into the lead as senior Stefan Bynoe sacked Kooi in the end zone for a safety to make the score 17-5 heading to the fourth and final quarter.
Down by 13 points, the Crusaders were forced to pass on nearly every play and Albany State defended well by intercepting a pass and returning it 81 yards for a score to expand their lead to 24-5 with 12:29 left in regulation. The North Greenville offense scored its first touchdown of the season after freshman offensive lineman Matthew Rochester recovered a fumble in the end zone to put the final score at 24-12 in favor of the Golden Rams.
On defense, the Crusaders held the Albany State offense to 250 total yards, including just 79 yards through the air. Junior defensive back Brandon Aldridge shined in his first career start, leading the defense with eight total tackles. Junior nose guard Zach Epting had a stellar start to the season as he finished with seven total tackles, including two tackles for loss and .5 of a sack, while the senior Bynoe had five tackles in the game, including three tackles for loss and a sack of his own. Junior linebacker Braelen Meredith filled up the stat sheet, finishing the game with four total tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks and two forced fumbles
The Crusader offense struggled to find momentum throughout the game as the unit totaled just 165 yards of total offense on 69 plays. In his first career start, freshman quarterback Nelson Hughes was 16-for-28 for 105 yards and one interception. After Hughes was knocked out of the game because of a big hit from the ASU defense, sophomore quarterback Joey Carter played the final few series to finish 4-for-10 for 23 yards and one interception.
Senior wide receiver Troy Jones finished the game with a game-high five catches for 23 yards, while junior Freddie Martino caught four passes of his own for 26 yards. Freshman receiver Thomas Weeks had three catches in the game and finished with a game-high 64 yards. Fellow freshman Darius Paulk led the rushing attack for NGU as he carried the ball 15 times for 29 yards, while Hughes had four carries for 24 yards in the game.
The Crusaders will have a quick turnaround to prepare for their next game as they will travel to Cookeville, TN on Thursday, September 6 to take on Division I-AA opponent Tennesse Tech at 7 p.m. Central Time.