by Mike Potter
O'KELLY-RIDDICK STADIUM/DURHAM It's Homecoming day at N.C. Central, and for Eagles everywhere that means it's a big game no matter the identity of the opponent.
This time, it's Central State of Ohio, an Historically Black institution that belongs to the Division II Great Lakes Football Conference.
The Eagles come into the game with a 1-6 record, while CSU is 1-7.
NCCU lost its first six games before a 52-7 home romp over NAIA member Central Methodist two weeks ago, that coming after Rison challenged his team to win its final five games.
The crowd isn't as big as at some recent homecoming contests, but that may change if the early-afternoon mist subsides. It does, increasing to an SRO situation with 10,319 who see the Eagles roll to a 53-22 win.
NCCU's first drive is sloppy at times, but effective as quarterback Michael Johnson scrambles untouched down the left sideline 16 yards to complete an 11-play, 72-yard march. Frankie Cardelle's boot makes it 7-0 at the 10:41 mark.
Back come the Marauders with an eight-play, 59-yard drive, with Joshua Anderson going in from a yard out. The kick is good and it's 7-7 at 7:58.
NCCU scores again on its next possession but it's only a field goal, a 32-yard boot from Cardelle to end a 14-play, 58-yard march with 1:01 left in the period.
The Eagles get the game's first break when Rakeem Vick intercepts a Jeff Brooks pass at the CSU 26. Johnson connects with Will Scott, who cuts across the grain to go all the way before Cardelle adds the boot with 43.2 seconds left in the quarter to make it 17-7.
NCCU gets another interception, this one from David Ingram, but Cardelle misses a 35-yard field goal.
But the Eagles atone on their next possession after receiving a CSU punt at the Marauders' 31. Johnson connects with Geo Irvine for 30 yards before Saeed Abdul-Azeez bulls it in with 8:10 left in the half. Cardelle's boot makes it 24-7.
Central State makes it closer with 3:29 left in the half, when Anderson goes in from two to complete a 10-play, 74-yard march. The kick is good again and it's 24-14.
But the Eagles make it 30-14 with 50.5 left in the half when Johnson hits Scott from the 18 to finish a six-play, 60-yard march. A trick play on the conversion try falls short.
NCCU scores again on its first possession of the second half, with Tim Shankle going around right end from six yards out to complete a 10-play, 50-yard drive. There's a bad snap on the conversion and it's 36-14 with 6:28 left in the third.
It went to 43-14 with 1:39 left in the third on Shankle's 18-yard burst to the left pylon that pretty much ended all doubt. Cardelle's placement added punctuation to the eight-play, 65-yard march, which was helped when Brian Frierson recovered a muffed punt at the Marauders' 24.
The Eagles win the fourth quarter 10-7. Cardelle hits a 17-yard field goal, followed by a one-yard run for Anderson's third TD of the game and Brooks' two-point conversion. Arthur Goforth scores the Eagles' final TD with 8:28 left.
They said it ...
NCCU coach Mose Rison: "We had a little better feel for this football team than we had for Central Methodist a couple of weeks ago. We wanted to go into this game and go in with a lot of confidence and play mistake-free football, at least on offense. We got out passing game going and were able to loosen up the running game. Michael Johnson is playing like a quarterback is supposed to play."
Johnson: "Our receiving corps is one of the best around. We've got all types of receivers. Will is a deep threat guy and Geo (Irvine) is an all-around guy and Arthur Johnson is an in-between guy. We've got a young offensive line with the exception of Gabe Manns. We knew they were going to have some growing pains, but now toward the end of the season they're giving us protection. They're doing a better job run-blocking and they're going to keep getting better. "
Shankle: "There were holes everywhere. It was just up to me to read it. The offensive line played hard. They practice hard every day and just keep getting better and better."
What does it all mean?
That the Eagles are still on track for their most victories since 2006 if they can win their final three games.
Stars of the game
1. Michael Johnson, 14-for-25 for 246 yards and two TDs without an interception.
2. Tim Shankle, 16 carries for 88 yards and two scores.
3. Will Scott, six catches for 121 yards and two touchdowns.
Play of the game
Vick's interception to set up Scott's first touchdown catch.
Eagles lead 2-1.
NCCU: Won 2.
CSU: Lost 2.
NCCU at Old Dominion, Nov. 7, 2 p.m.
St. Joseph's (Ind.) at CSU, Nov. 7, 1:30 p.m.