PEARSON CAFETERIA/DURHAM When N.C. Central got into an 0-6 hole to start its football season after losing three close games and three others to very superior opponents, Coach Mose Rison issued a challenge to the Eagles.
Win the last five and finish the season on a winning streak.
So far so good with that challenge, as the Eagles have outscored a pair of non-Division I opponents 105-29 in their last two games. But those results could reasonably have been expected.
Deciding what should happen this week is tougher.
NCCU (2-6), which is in its third season of transition from NCAA Division II to Division I (Championship Subdivision), will travel on Saturday for its first meeting with Old Dominion (7-2). The Monarchs are also members of the FCS, but are playing their first season of football since 1940. The 2 p.m. contest at Foreman Field is ODU's homecoming contest.
"It was quite pleasing to see what our team was able to accomplish on Saturday," NCCU's third-year coach said at his weekly press conference. "I thought we played our most solid football game of the year (in a 53-22 homecoming win over Central State.) For the most part on offense and defense I thought we had played as well as we have all year.
"We made some adjustments on the offensive line and have been able to have continuity for the last three ball games. That has been a plus for us. And at the same time the quarterback (Michael Johnson) is growing up. He has a chance to be an outstanding player for us. We continue to play what I think is good football all year, defensively. We've been flying around, hitting, we've kept our turnovers down. That's a good thing. We have not turned the ball over."
A lot of the wins from Bobby Wilder's Monarchs have come against the type of opposition NCCU has faced the last two weeks.
ODU's only two wins over FCS teams giving a full allotment of scholarships have been over Presbyterian (0-8) and Savannah State (2-6), whose two wins have come against Edward Waters and Livingstone.
"They've played some teams early on that they beat and got themselves off to a good start," Rison said of the Monarchs. "I know they're going to feel good about their homecoming game this weekend. I'm sure when they watch the tape they're going to see a much different football team than Georgetown.
"Their quarterback (Thomas DeMarco) makes everything go. He's a junior-college transfer who has done a lot of good things for their football team. When he's making things happen they're a very good offensive football team."
NCCU junior defensive back David Ingram said the five-game sweep is doable, but he and his teammates know ODU may be the toughest assignment in the run.
"Winning two games in a row is a confidence-builder," Ingram said. "We really feel like we can win this game. Winning games on the road is important.
When we were 0-6 it didn't look too great, but we treated it like coming out for the second half of a game. You have to play the third and fourth quarters. This is a big game for us, because we want to finish 5-6."