ORANGEBURG, S.C -- Somebody forgot to tell Benedict that it's rivalry with South Carolina State had been dead for 33 years.
And that the Tigers have only been in NAIA action for three years since reopening the football program in 1995. But none of it mattered when the Tigers came to Orangeburg in front of a record crowd of 24,557.
The capacity crowd at Dawson Field saw four lead changes in the second half before the Bulldogs held on to win 26-23.
Derek O'Neal, who racked up 153 yards last week against Charleston Southern, was held to just 15 in the first half. But his 6-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth gave the Bulldogs the 20-16 lead.
O'Neal wasn't done. The senior then broke free late in the game for a 72-yard score to allow the Bulldogs some breathing room with a 26-16 lead. But breathing room wasn't something Benedict allowed all night.
Benedict quarterback Royton Williams hit freshman receiver Chris Rampersant on the first play of the next drive for a 65-yard touchdown to bring the Tigers within 26-23.
"I started off kind of slow, but the coaches told me to keep my head up," said O'Neal, who finished with 197 yards on 28 carries. "We wore them down in the second half and just kept driving at them. It's a pretty good win, and we showed that we had the better team. It was a good game though."
The Bulldogs (2-0) won the last time the two met, but the Tigers played like the loss was still fresh in memory. After State's Chad Eaddy took a draw on fourth-and-15, and scooted 27-yards for the touchdown, giving the Bulldogs the early 7-0 lead, Benedict would hold it's own.
Junior running back Quinton Jamison, who tallied 73 yards on 13 carries in the first half, tied the game at 7-all with his 2-yard run up the middle in the opening drive of the second quarter. James finished with 97 yards on 19 carries.
The Tigers (1-3) had another opportunity to score late in the half, driving to the Bulldogs 18-yard line before Kevin Harris missed the 32-yard field goal attempt. Harris would get another opportunity to open the second half after Tiger defensive lineman Furman Smith caused and recovered a Bulldog quarterback Craig James fumble on State's own 6-yard-line.
"We're not satisfied with this loss at all," Benedict coach Tony Felder said. "Some people say take it as a moral victory, but we don't see like that. We made too many mistakes, and gave them the game. We're winners and we can't except anything less."
The Bulldog defense would hold again, but this time Harris nailed the 23-yard field goal to give Benedict the momentum and a 10-7 lead. But the Tigers squandered the opportunity when quarterback Williams fumbled at their own 7-yard line.
It took Eaddy only two tries to carry it into the end zone from 6-yards out regaining the lead for the Bulldogs 14-10 midway through the third quarter. By this time, it was obvious there was no quit in the Tigers.
Benedict drove 67 yards in eight plays on the next drive, capped by Williams' 4-yard dash to the corner of the end zone, giving Benedict the 16-14 heading into the fourth quarter.
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