Benedict took another step forward Saturday at Charlie W. Johnson Stadium.
The surging Tigers pulled off a nail-biting 28-20 SIAC win over Fort Valley State before a homecoming crowd of 11,000. Benedict secured it fifth win in its past six outings when Julian Cater intercepted a Fort Valley State pass at the Tigers' 10-yard line with 1:10 remaining.
"The guys are playing hard and starting to understand the commitment we have to have on and off the field to get where we want to be," third-year Benedict coach Stan Conner said.
"We're not there yet by any means, but we are heading in the right direction. In the past, we would have folded in a game like this."
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The Tigers (6-3, 4-3) showed plenty of heart in the second half after Fort Valley State threatened to take control in the third quarter.
The Wildcats cashed in a Benedict fumble on the second play of the second half when Justin Rosenbaum drilled a 43-yard field goal at the 12:02 mark. Fort Valley State then put together a 16-play, 87-yard scoring drive on its next possession to take a 17-14 lead with 3:31 to go in the third.
"One big difference this year is our guys don't get down on themselves when things aren't going right," Conner said. "They just keep working, keep plugging away."
Benedict's go-ahead scoring drive began with an interception by Marquez Gibson at the Tigers' 49 on the last play of the third quarter. The Tigers needed five plays to regain the lead. Quarterback Pat Riley keyed the march, hitting Corey Gardhigh with a pass for a 37-yard gain and capping the drive with a 9-yard run around the right side.
After the Tigers forced Fort Valley State to punt, fullback Max Martin burst through a huge hole on the right side for a 67-yard scoring run that increased Benedict's lead to 28-17 with 6:08 remaining.
The Wildcats made things interesting by recovering an onside kick with 3:48 to go after Rosenbaum's 45-yard field goal made it a one-possession game.
Fort Valley State converted a fourth-and-17 with a 19-yard pass from Terrance Ransom to Demario Barber and eventually reached the Benedict 21 with 1:20 remaining.
Enter Carter, who settled things by leaping high to snare Ransom's desperation heave under pressure.
"The guys up front had a great rush, and I was just back there waiting for things to unfold," Carter said. "All I had to do was catch the ball."
Benedict finished with 417 offensive yards, all but 50 coming on the ground. Riley had a game-high 199 yards rushing and three touchdowns, while Martin added 121 yards on 11 carries.