by Mike Potter
O'KELLY-RIDDICK STADIUM/DURHAM N.C. Central wasn't expecting a tough challenge when the game was scheduled.
It's one of those "guarantee" games that the home team is supposed to win.
But when NCCU scheduled Central Methodist of Fayette, Mo., for the first and perhaps the only "Battle of the Central Eagles" nobody knew what kind of team CMU would have.
Alan Dykens' club, a member of the Heart of America Athletic Conference, comes in 5-1, ranked No. 20 in the NAIA national poll and having one of the best seasons in school history. NCCU is 0-6 including three excruciatingly close losses.
With the losing streak and the home fans unfamiliar with the opposition, there's not a big crowd in the house at kickoff on a chilly afternoon many might call a "perfect day for football." It's a breast cancer awareness day and the officials are throwing - you guessed it - fuschia pink flags.
And it does turn out to be an almost perfect day for NCCU, which scores on its first seven possessions and dominates every facet in a 52-7 victory. The home Eagles finish with 361 yards' total offense to the visitors' 93, get two special-teams touchdowns and a turnover margin of 4-0.
NCCU gets on the board on its first possession after a CMU punt. The hosts go 62 yards in 10 plays, with Frankie Cardelle booting a convincing 41-yard field goal at the 6:49 mark of the period.
Soon after that NCCU gets another break when Calvin Hillie, who had two takeaways at Appalachian State last week, picks off a Bryant Jackson pass at the CMU 28. Five plays later Tim Shankle takes it in from six yards out. Following that is a trick play, in which Cardelle takes a lateral from holder Nickolas Hahula and runs left before heaving an ugly but effective pass to Saeed Abdul-Azeez in the end zone, making it 11-0 at 3:24.
And the next time the home team gets the ball, lightning strikes. Michael Johnson (pictured) hits Andrew Johnson in stride up the middle for a 59-yard touchdown, with Cardelle's kick making it 18-0 with 1:53 left in the first.
NCCU continues its scoring streak early in the second, as Shankle goes in from eight to complete an 11-play, 54-yard march and Cardelle's kick makes it 25-0 at 11:05.
Ditto for the next possession, a 49-yard pass from Michael Johnson to Geo Irvine on a spectacular contested catch at about the 5 and the toe makes it 32-0 at the 9:56 mark.
Things continue to steamroll late in the quarter, as Cardelle kicks field goals of 24 and 39 and it's 38-0 at halftime.
NCCU finally has to punt on its first possession of the second half, but soon makes up for it. Arthur Goforth returns a CMU punt 47 yards to pay first with 6:43 left in the third, the kick is good and it's 45-0.
NCCU gets its final points with 3:03 left, as Anthony Sharp blocks a Marshall Woodruff punt and Malik Cromartie returns it 11 yards to the end zone.
CMU breaks the shutout with 27 seconds left, as backup quarterback Logan Cornett connected with Brandon Merritt from the 19 with Tyler Padgett adding the boot.
They said it ...
NCCU coach Mose Rison: "When I was watching the film on them I saw a good football team. They had won five out of six games, and you've got to take them seriously. Our preparation was good. We had a great week of practice and we were ready to play. And Michael Johnson looked like a quarterback who is ready to lead this football team."
Michael Johnson: "I felt good today. It was good to take care of business and get our first win of the season. I knew with Will Scott (NCCU's top receiver, who has a day-to-day knee injury) out of the game I had to step up. My offensive line and receivers did a great job. Johnson & Johnson - we're the 'baby powder' combination. Geo Irvine can catch anything I throw him. And I can't think of anybody on this team who works harder than Shank."
Shankle: "I didn't have to make a lot of moves today, just follow my blocks because the holes were there. I think this win should do a lot for our confidence. We really needed one."
What does it all mean?
That NCCU has a chance to get something going the rest of the way and finish the season with some good momentum. For CMU, it probably doesn't mean much at all.
Stars of the game
1. Michael Johnson, 15-for-20 for 218 yards and two TDs.
2. Shankle, with 131 yards all-purpose rushing and two scores.
3. Cardelle, responsible for 16 points.
Play of the game
Irvine's acrobatic touchdown catch.
Eagles lead 1-0.
NCCU: Won 1.
CMU: Lost 1.
CMU vs. Missouri Valley, Oct. 24, 7 p.m. (EDT)
NCCU vs. Central State (Ohio), Oct. 31, 1:30 p.m.