After Miles College opened conference play with a loss at Albany State on Sept. 29, the Golden Bears were 0-5, had lost three games by 10 total points, and were watching their season slowly go down the drain.
But Miles bounced back, winning three games inside the final minute to win the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Western Division and get one more shot at the Golden Rams. This time, the Golden Bears left no doubt that they were, indeed, the best team.
Justin Hardy rushed for 128 yards and three touchdowns, Daniel Smith threw two touchdown passes to DeionTray Fagin and the Golden Bears forced three turnovers and turned them into touchdowns in the second half as Miles won the SIAC title with a 50-23 beatdown of Albany State in front of 5,461 at Sloan-Alumni Stadium. The conference championship was the third for the Golden Bears (5-6) under coach Reginald Ruffin, and all have come against the Golden Rams (7-4).
The 50 points were the most scored by Miles this season and the most in a game by the Golden Bears since a 51-0 win over Lane in 2014. It was the second most points scored in the eight SIAC title tilts, trailing on the 55 scored by Tuskegee in 2012.
Miles scored on its opening drive when Hardy finished a 10-play, 75-yard drive with a 10-yard run for a 7-0 lead. He would score again on a 2-yard run in the second quarter and two Jackson Spradlin field goals (26 and 43 yards) helped give the Golden Bears a 20-17 lead at the half.
But the game broke open in the third quarter and Albany State contributed to its own demise. On the second play of the third quarter, C.J. McClelland picked off Golden Rams quarterback Kelias Williams and returned it to the Albany State 20. Three minutes later, Smith threw a bullet to Fagin through two Golden Rams defenders for an 11-yard touchdown to push the score to 27-17. On the third play of the ensuing drive, Jamari Smith forced a fumble that was recovered by Jaylun Thomas. Miles would then go 68 yards on nine plays, with Smith (21-of-32, 238 yards passing, 61 yards rushing) hitting Fagin on a 2-yard pass for another touchdown and with 7:06 left in the third, the score was 34-17.
The Golden Rams could not make it happen on its next drive and turned it over on downs and Miles answered with a 33-yard field goal from Spradlin. On the ensuing kickoff, Christian Mays forced a McKinley Habersham fumble that was recovered by Sidney Wilson. Five plays later, Hardy scored on a 10-yard run and the Golden Bears began to celebrate as they had opened a 43-17 lead with 10:42 remaining.
Backup quarterback Brandon Pearson would finally get Albany State back in the scoring column with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Javon Wooten with 6:28 to go. But Miles would put the icing on its championship cake with a 9-yard scoring run by Mays for the final margin.