By ADD SEYMOUR JR.
It's on to the second round of the NCAA Division II football playoffs for Tuskegee as Kevin Lacey threw two touchdown passes and linebacker Jewell Ratliff picked off a pass at the goal line for another touchdown to lead the Golden Tigers to a 26-16 win over Catawba.
It's the program's first NCAA playoff win after two years of close defeats.
Tuskegee (9-2) now heads across the state to play North Alabama, a 50-7 winner over Newberry, next weekend. Catawba finishes the season 8-3.
"This was a big win for us," said Tuskegee head coach Willie Slater according to the school's athletics web site. "It's our first playoff win and now we have to focus on the next win. The next one is the most important one. We just have to get back to work. I have seen some strange things happen in the playoffs."
Tuskegee used a balanced offense and a tough run defense to keep Catawba at bay. Lacey threw for 219 yards while the Golden Tigers rushing game had 121 on the ground. Dennis Norfleet had 88 yards rushing to lead Tuskegee.
The Golden Tigers took their first drive straight down field as Lacey hooked up with Peyton Ramzy on a 39-yard touchdown pass. Tuskegee went up 14-0 nine minutes later after Jerome Lewis' one-yard TD run.
Catawba followed up with a touchdown in the third quarter and a field goal early in the fourth, but Lacey followed immediately with his second TD toss. Then midway through the fourth quarter, Ratliff's interception put the game out of reach.
Ratliff finished with ten tackles while Osband Thompson had 13 stops. Daryl George had two sacks for Tuskegee.
They now head to North Alabama, a team that finished 8-2 this season. Tuskegee has played North Alabama three times, losing each time. They last played in 2013 when North Alabama defeated the Golden Tigers 30-27 in the first round of the NCAA Division II playoffs.
"We are excited," Slater said. "We have been telling them all year this is a great opportunity because we are considered to be one of the top 28 teams in the country. They listened to us and we are excited to make it past the first round."