MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The Tuskegee Golden Tigers open the 2013 season with a chance to avenge the only regular-season loss they had in 2012. Tuskegee will take on Alabama A&M at 6 p.m. Saturday in Huntsville in the continuation of a rivalry that dates to 1932.
The Bulldogs, who began their season last week with a 23-9 victory over Grambling State, defeated Tuskegee last year 7-6. The Golden Tigers bounced back from that loss to win their remaining 10 regular-season games and capture the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship.
But for Tuskegee coach Willie Slater and the team's 16 returning starters, there are still painful memories of the one game that got away.
"We had great opportunities last year, we just didn't execute very well, particularly in the passing game," Slater said. "We had guys wide open and just missed them."
Tuskegee will face a vastly different Alabama A&M team this year. The Bulldogs had 15 new starters in the lineup against Grambling, plus a new punter and placekicker. The inexperience showed at times, as A&M picked up nine penalties for a total of 131 yards.
"We made some mistakes, but overall they played well. Well enough to get the victory," A&M coach Anthony Jones said. "Now we're going to try to fix the mistakes we made and get better."
A&M first-year starting quarterback Brandon Wells went 15-of-28 with two touchdowns and one interception against Grambling. Barrington Scott rushed 16 times for 77 yards and a score. And linebacker Robert Nelson had seven tackles with three for a loss, including one for a safety.
"We had a lot of questions that needed to be answered, and I think we answered some of them," Jones said.
There are not nearly as many question marks facing the Golden Tigers, who have a junior-heavy roster and 10 returning starters from an offense that averaged 32.6 points per game in the team's 10 victories last season.
The only offensive starter from last year that Tuskegee is missing is a big one. Harlon Hill trophy finalist Derrick Washington rushed for 1,679 yards and 14 touchdowns last season and caught 20 passes for 305 yards and a score.
Slater said fullback Michael Thornton will handle more of the rushing load this year, partly by spending time at tailback. The 6-foot-2, 238-pound junior rushed for 439 yards and eight touchdowns in 2012, primarily in third-down and short-yardage situations.
"We're expecting a lot out of him," Slater said. "We're trying to do a few more things with him, more than just playing fullback. He has exceptional hands. If we can get that big body out there in the secondary coming out of the backfield, I think he can do some things."
Alabama A&M leads in the series with Tuskegee 25-20-3.
Miles at North Alabama, 6:30 p.m., Thursday
There will be a combined total of 31 returning starters in the game when North Alabama hosts Miles in the season-opener for both teams.
UNA returns 16 starters from last year's 5-5 team, including linebacker Tavarius Wilson, who had 112 tackles and was named Division II All-America in 2012.
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