by Mike Potter
O'KELLY-RIDDICK STADIUM/DURHAM N.C. Central finally gets a home football game, on a warm, partly cloudy day in the Bull City.
The 0-2 Eagles have played twice as road underdogs so far, but this time they'll be favored on their brand-new Mondoturf field.
The opponent is Morehead State (1-1) of the Pioneer Football League, the only public Division I school in the country that does not offer football scholarships. It's the same football-only conference in which Davidson - where NCCU coach Mose Rison was an assistant for one season - and Campbell compete. It's the schools' first meeting in any sport, and there is no return date to Kentucky.
NCCU has an "E-Town" entertainment area on the practice field behind the North end zone, and the new scoreboard at that end of the field is up but not yet operating.
Despite the hype it isn't a good day for the host Eagles, as they lose 13-10 in the second overtime on a 45-yard field goal from Rainer Duzan.
NCCU takes the opening kickoff and quickly drives to the MSU 31, but the offense can't do anything more with it.
And the visitors quickly show they can move the ball. It takes Morehead just four plays to go 80 yards, with Evan Sawyer finding Ronnie McDermott from seven yards out and Justin Mullins adding the boot at 11:22.
After that there is a lot of offensive ineptitude on both sides for the remainder of the half.
NCCU gets to the Morehead 15 late in the first quarter, but the snap is awry on Frankie Cardelle's field-goal attempt and the ball never has a chance to clear the linemen.
Then at the end of the half, NCCU has three shots from the Morehead 9 before Cardelle's field-goal try at the buzzer is wide left.
NCCU finally gets something going on its second possession of the second half as Michael Johnson seems to find his mojo. The hosts go 71 yards in eight plays after a big Alex Winters interception, with Johnson hitting old Hillside High teammate Geo Irvine (pictured) in the middle of the end zone from 23 yards out. This time Cardelle's kick is good, and it's 7-7 with 1:06 left in the third.
But MSU takes the lead again courtesy of a special-teams mistake, as Phillip Barren muffs a punt and the visitors recover at the NCCU 18. Rainer Duzan connects from 27, and it's 10-7 with 9:14 to play.
NCCU shows life on its next drive, going 32 yards in nine plays to set up Cardelle's clutch 38-yard field goal. Rison decides to have the freshman kick on fourth-and-1 and it works out.
Morehead gets into NCCU territory but the defense holds. NCCU can't get anything going and punts deep into MSU territory, where the visiting Eagles take a knee and we go to overtime.
The visitors try a 38-yard Duzan field goal on their first possession, and it's wide right.
NCCU tries to put it in the air and ends up with a 49-yard Cardelle attempt which is straight but a couple of yards short.
The teams switch roles and Johnson is intercepted on second down.
Duzan responds with his big kick, the visitors celebrate and NCCU's three-game home winning streak disappears.
They said it ...
NCCU coach Mose Rison: "Today was a microcosm of what happened all week. We didn't practice well on Tuesday or Wednesday. We had an OK practice on Thursday. After the first two games we were flat, and I have no idea why. We seemed awful flat. This really was a setback in terms of our progress. We'll watch the film as a staff and see what we did wrong. I give Morehead State a lot of credit. Those kids played hard. But this was definitely a setback for us."
Morehead State coach Matt Ballard: "Our guys stepped up to a tremendous challenge today. We knew coming in here we were going to have an epic battle and that we would have to maintain a high level of play the entire game. We absolutely did that, and once again like always, our guys rose up. Our defense was so intense today!"
Johnson: "I was surprised at how much pressure they could get on me. They controlled the line of scrimmage and were physical. It's hard to see those things on film. They came out there and surprised us. ... Later in the game we got more into a rhythm. Geo is an unbelievable talent. He kept telling me the whole game 'You know I've got you - get me the ball.' I finally listened to him."
What does it all mean?
That Morehead State is on the bus with one very surprising victory in its pocket. And that NCCU needs to win every game which it has a reasonable chance to win to finish with a winning season.
Stars of the game
1. Duzan, with two field goal including the clutch final one.
2. Irvine, with seven catches for 101 yards and a touchdown.
3. Morehead State cornerback Henry Hudson, with nine tackles and a blocked kick.
Play of the game
Duzan's game-winning kick.
Morehead State leads 1-0.
NCCU: Lost 3.
Morehead: Won 1.
NCCU at Duke, Sept. 26, 7 p.m.
Morehead State vs. Butler, Sept. 26, 1 p.m.