by Mike Potter
PEARSON CAFETERIA/DURHAM N.C. Central no longer has a chance to finish better than last season's 4-7 mark.
But what the 2-7 Eagles do have looming on the schedule is a big rivalry game.
That will happen on Saturday at 1, when the Eagles visit former CIAA rival Winston-Salem State (1-8) at Bowman Gray Stadium.
Kermit Blount's Rams had already been admitted to the MEAC, which NCCU will join as a participant next season after recently being approved for membership, but the university decided to give up on the move to Division I and head back to the CIAA.
The series is tied 21-21 after NCCU won 23-16 last season in Durham.
"I watched (WSSU) on film all day Sunday and all day yesterday," NCCU coach Mose Rison said during his weekly press conference. "I wanted to make sure I knew what that football team was all about. I know they're 1-8 and they've had some adversity. Kermit has done a great job of keeping that football team together. They're playing hard. They really are. Last Saturday against Delaware State they were down 24-7 and found a way to come back and make that game close (losing 24-21.)
"They found a way to stay in that ball game. They've had a lot of off-the-field distractions and that's made it really tough. But they're a good football team, extremely physical on defense. They have some good players. They want to bring pressure. They have tremendous size. We're going to have to play top-level football on Saturday."
Rison said that's the kind of football the Eagles played most of the second half on Saturday, when a 42-28 loss at Old Dominion on the Monarchs' homecoming day derailed NCCU's quest to win its final five games.
"It was 28-0 at halftime," said Rison, whose team tied the game 28-28 early in the fourth quarter. "We had a few kind words to say. I got my point across and we came back in the second half and we acted like we wanted to play football and played like a real football team. Defensively (the first half) was our worst half of the season.
"I said 'We still have 30 minutes of football' and our motto is, regardless of the score, we don't quit. I was glad to see us come back. For me and for our staff and our football team it was true indication of not quitting. I was proud of what we were able to do from that standpoint."
Rison said he has been proud of the continuing improvement of quarterback Michael Johnson, who was 26-for-42 for 249 yards with two touchdowns on Saturday.
He has also been high on NCCU's defensive leader Teryl White (pictured), who was named to the CoSIDA academic all-district team last week.
White, who is second on the team with 51 tackles, is on a 25-man unit that also contains Florida quarterback Tim Tebow along with Duke guard Mitchell Lederman and wideout Donovan Varner.
"It's a great honor," White said. "I have a lot of respect for those guys. A lot of them you see on TV every Saturday. I'm glad to be mentioned in the same breath as some of those guys. I know I'm on the right track."
NCCU got a scare late in Saturday's game when tight end Earthan Ward took some helmet-to-helmet contact and was down on the field for about 15 minutes.
Although he suffered a concussion, Ward rode the team bus back to Durham. Rison said Ward will miss the WSSU game but will possibly be back for the Nov. 21 season finale against visiting Savannah State.