|CIAA North: Bowie hoping third time is charm|
|Published Thursday, August 17, 2017|
The CIAA football season is just days away. The Northern Division is looking to end a two-year stranglehold by the South. And while, on paper, the division appears much stronger, Winston-Salem State still rules the nest.
• Bowie State (runner-up): 2016 was supposed to be the Bulldogs’ year. After blowing a second-half lead to the Rams in the 2015 CIAA championship, the talk was all about redemption, revenge, rededication and any other R’s you could think of. And it seemed the team was on its way after posting a 6-1 league record and returning to the ‘ship for a second straight season.
But the Rams had other ideas, and gave BSU a 43-33 spanking in a game that wasn’t even that close.
“The team has a bad taste in their mouth from losing the CIAA championship game for a second year in a row, but has been working hard all offseason to make it back and bring home the trophy,” sophomore running back Maurice Williams said.
Coach Damon Wilson enters his ninth season still seeking that elusive title. After averaging a conference-best 41 points per game, BSU lost several key offensive veterans in Nyme Manns, Jordan Garrison and Justin Nestor that helped it also average 520 offensive yards per game.
But the cupboard is far from bare. Last season’s 1,000-yard rusher Robert Chesson returns, along with top wide receivers Brandon Britton and Kerrick Pollock. And let’s not forget CIAA Offensive Player of the Year Amir Hall, who completed 61.8 percent of his passes for 3,596 yards, 30 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.
The Bulldogs defense, which ranked third in touchdowns and yards rushing allowed, returns eight starters.
The last Northern team to make three straight title appearances was Virginia Union from 1981-83. Can the Bulldogs throw off the monkey? That answer begins Sept. 2 against Seton Hall.
• Virginia State (9-2): A one point loss to Bowie State is all that separated first-year coach Reggie Barlow from a division crown.
The Trojans have themed this season “Embrace the Grind.” VSU ended the season on a four-game win streak, including a 45-35 victory over Tuskegee.
Despite losing several seniors, including starting QB Tarian Ayres, the Trojans return senior running back Trenton Cannon, who broke a VSU single-season rushing record with 1,214 yards, plus 18 touchdowns. Junior WR Josh Harris is expected to be a main go-to guy in the secondary.
Senior LB Brandon Lynch will lead a defense that held opponents to under 300 total offensive yards. Barlow also added a slew of transfers but, like most coaches, is keeping them close to the vest.
Barlow came to VSU with much fanfare after coaching a successful program at the SWAC’s Alabama State for seven seasons. Despite WSSU’s title, many felt the Trojans were the best team in the league. But they weren’t the ones hoisting up a trophy, and that’s all that matters.
VSU opens the season Sept. 2 at the MEAC’s Norfolk State.
• Elizabeth City State (5-5): Despite criticism for saying he had “better players” at ECSU than at the MEAC’s Savannah State, second-year coach Earnest Wilson III had the Vikings in the thick of the division race right up till the final weekend. ECSU won three of its last four games, including wins over Morehouse, Chowan and Virginia Union.
The Vikings should again make things interesting with a veteran offense led by senior QB Daquan Neal, who threw for 2,068 yards, 15 TDs and 10 INTs, and who also was the team leader in touchdowns rushing with 12.
Joining him in the backfield are several familiar faces. The team’s top four rushing leaders return, with sophomore Deshon Saunders (79 carries, 478 yards) leading the way. But with only one returning starter on the offensive line, the big question is: Can the Vikings keep Neal healthy?
Jerrell Timmons and Tremayne Sweat lead a defensive line that lost just one starter.
Wilson made critics eat most of their words last season. This year will tell if they finish the meal. ECSU opens the season Sept. 2 at Central State.
• Virginia Union (5-5): It’s been eight seasons since the Panthers won a division title. Still, VUU has been successful, as evidenced by its 8-3 record and at-large playoff spot in 2015. So naturally expectations were high last season.
But the biggest news was a rumor that Athletics Director Joe Taylor had released coach Mark James. Taylor quickly came out and said the rumor was false – although some still believe it – but it raised the question of the relationship between the coach and AD.
It’s hard to know what VUU will do since the season prospectus doesn’t tell much. But we do know what the team doesn’t have: QB Shawheem Dowdy, who threw for 2,060 yards, 22 TDs and 12 INTs; and running back sensation William Stanback (1,299 yards, 15 TDs), and that’s reason enough to worry.
The first game will tell a lot against LIU-Post on Sept. 2.
• Chowan (6-4): At the CIAA Media Day, coach Tim Place was asked what it was going to take to win his first division title since joining the CIAA. He replied, “beat Bowie State, beat Virginia State,” etc.
The Hawks not only lost to the Trojans and BSU, but ECSU also.
Chowan recorded its first back-to-back winning seasons in program history, but finished fourth in the division. As in the past, the Hawks started out on fire (winning four of five) but fizzled down the stretch.
“Our goal is to play physical, smart, fast, together and disciplined,” Place said. “To achieve our goal, we have to be mentally and physically prepared with our assignments on and off the field from preseason workouts till the final whistle.”
The journey begins Sept. 2 against Fayetteville State in a non-conference matchup.
• Lincoln (1-9): The Lions are 14-76 since rejoining the CIAA in 2008. They return three starters on offense and five on defense. To make matters worse, LU lost to its archrival Cheyney last season 21-20 in overtime. That has usually been the one bright spot in an otherwise dismal performance.
The Lions again open at Cheyney on Sept. 2.
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