by Mike Potter
N.C. Central and Winston-Salem State used to be big rivals for the CIAA football championship.
And on seemingly countless occasions the Rams - when they were coached by Bill Hayes who played for the Eagles, later was NCCU athletics director and is now A.D. at WSSU - put the one blotch on the schedule that ruined the Eagles' season.
Four years ago the Rams announced they were headed for NCAA Division I, perhaps the last prompting the NCCU administration needed for the Eagles to make the move themselves.
But the Rams' move had problems all along. First their five-year "transition" phase was extended to six. And then in September, Chancellor Donald Reaves announced the Rams were giving up on that quest and going back to the Division II CIAA.
So whether or not Saturday's contest at Bowman Gray Stadium will be the schools' last football meeting for a while is an open question.
Neither team is having a great season. NCCU (2-7) didn't get some wins it could have had early on for Mose Rison, and firewall victories over NAIA Central Methodist and Division II Central State are what has kept the Eagles from a losing season. Kermit Blount's WSSU (1-8) beat Bethune-Cookman 16-10 on the road three weeks ago.
N.C. Central (2-7) vs. Winston-Salem State (1-8)
[1 p.m. Saturday, Bowman Gray Stadium, Winston-Salem]
Series tied 21-21
Audio: WRJD-AM 1410, nccueaglepride.com, wssurams.com
Key stats ...
NCCU: Team scoring 25.4 to opponents' 30.8. Rushing 101.8 to 180.7. Passing 199.0 to 155.8. Individual leaders - (rush) Tim Shankle 149-582 7 TD, (pass) Michael Johnson 128-225-8-1583 13 TD, (receive) Will Scott 35-552 7 TD, (tackle) Calvin Hillie 56 with 3 int. 1 fum. rec. 1 forced fum.
WSSU: Team scoring 11.9 to opponents' 22.0. Rushing 114.1 to 137.9. Passing 99.3 to 161.1. Individual leader - (rush) Jared Dunston 102-293 1 TD, (pass) Jarrett Dunston 53-128-3-627 7 TD, (receive) Omar Kizzie 20-220 1 TD, (tackle) Akeem Ward 59 with 1 fum. rec. 2 forced fum.
Best message board tidbit on the game:
RMH NCCU93 on Onnidan.com: "Go Eagles! Let us get this third win of the season! It makes me sick to say that in the third week of November. I was one that thought and believed we would win 7 to 8 games this year. As the Cubs fans say, "Wait 'til next year!"
NCCU will win if ... The Eagles simply bring their 'A' game on offense and simply score more points than the Rams are capable of putting on the board. Winston-Salem State is averaging 12 points per game, and NCCU hasn't scored that few since mid-September. The Eagles are passing for 100 yards more per game against an odd-looking schedule in which the three best opponents have been better than anyone except perhaps one opponent on WSSU's schedule but the two wins were essentially gift-wrapped.
WSSU will win if ... The Rams can get NCCU quarterback Michael Johnson off-balance. If he has a good day, NCCU is probably going to win. WSSU quarterback Jarrett Dunston is going to have to find a way to be better. WSSU also has to keep defensive tackle Teryl White out of the backfield.
Can the Soaring Eagles corral the downwardly-mobile Rams? They should be able to, despite what the Dunkel Index says. Yes, the Eagles have two overtime losses on the schedule that should have been wins. But they had a tough stretch of superior opposition early in the season that at least allowed for some plausible excuses for losing.
Players to watch ...
NCCU: #11 LB Donald Laster, #15 QB Michael Johnson, #50 DL Teryl White, #83 WR Will Scott.
WSSU: #1 WR Dominique Fitzgerald, #8 QB Jarrett Dunston, #31 FS Wayne Noble, #99 DE Akeem Ward.
Injury report ...
NCCU: TE Earthan Ward (concussion) out.
WSSU: RB Cedrick Hickman (hip) probable, TE Austin Higgins (knee) questionable, OL Nazir Levine (knee) OUT, LB Juan Corders (shoulder) OUT.
Vegas line: None. Dunkel says WSSU by 7 ½.
Score prediction: NCCU 27, WSSU 14.