by Mike Potter
N.C. Central's third football season as a transitional member of NCAA Division I (FCS) will come to an end on Saturday afternoon.
And there's every indication the Eagles will be able to end it on a high note.
The opponent is Savannah State, playing this season as the only other FCS/HBCU team. Somebody should have minted a trophy.
Mose Rison's Eagles have won close games over the Tigers the last two seasons, and for the second straight year will play SSU at home in the season finale.
Savannah State has applied for admission to the MEAC, the conference in which NCCU will be playing next season although the Eagles won't yet be eligible for championships.
SSU's application may have hit a bump not of its own doing in the fall, when Winston-Salem State reversed course and announced plans to give up the ghost on its move to Division I.
(That means the Rams won't be playing in the MEAC next season. WSSU football coach Kermit Blount has already taken the fall for the administration's incompetence and won't be around next season either.)
It may be a tough sell to make SSU the 13th member of the MEAC and the 11th football member.
And coach Robby Wells has been feeling the heat as the Tigers - whose schedule hasn't had nearly the ambition of the Eagles' - has lost to two of the four non-Division I teams on the slate.
It's Senior Day for NCCU. Some key players - wideout Will Scott, offensive tackle Gabriel Manns, fullback Saeed Abdul-Azeez, linebacker Alex Winters and safety back Derek Harvey - will be playing in their final game as Eagles. The good news is that those five starters are the only losses heading into next season.
"We want to get our five seniors a win," said NCCU coach Mose Rison, who is currently 13-19 against the toughest three seasons of schedules in school history. "We want to send our five seniors out right, and show people we're continuing to grow and get better."
N.C. Central (3-7) vs. Savannah State (2-7)
[1:30 p.m. Saturday, O'Kelly-Riddick Stadium]
NCCU leads 3-0-1
Audio: WRJD-AM 1410, nccueaglepride.com
Key stats ...
NCCU: Team scoring 20.9 to opponents' 32.1. Rushing 141.1 to 149.4. Passing 190.6 to 150.2. Individual leaders - (rush) Tim Shankle 170-662 8 TD, (pass) Michael Johnson 138-246-9-1698 14 TD, (receive) Will Scott 38-586 7 TD, (tackle) Calvin Hillie 62 with 3 int. 1 fum. rec. 1 forced fum.
SSU: Team scoring 11.9 to opponents' 22.0. Rushing 114.1 to 149.4. Passing 170.0 to 230.9. Individual leaders - (rush) Justin Babb 118-768 6 TD, (pass) Kurvin Curry 92-172-7-1105 8 TD, (receive) Deleon Hollinger 43-417 3 TD, (tackle) Antwan Allen 72.
Best message board tidbit on the game:
RMH NCCU93 on Onnidan.com: "Let us get this win and start working on next year. Five seniors leaving meaning we should have a lot of returning players next year. Classroom, weight room, film room. Go Eagles!"
NCCU will win if ... The Eagles just keep the way they have been playing since the middle of the season. That 3-7 record is there after an 0-6 start. NCCU is getting stronger in every aspect of the game - running, passing, defense, kicking. The Eagles are playing a demoralized team while they're on the upswing.
SSU will win if ... The Tigers play their best game of the year. They've played NCCU close each of the past two seasons, but the Eagles are getting better. SSU is going to have to disrupt Michael Johnson to keep the Eagles' offense off the field. And the Tigers will have win with some sudden change plays like interceptions or fumble recoveries or blocked kicks.
Can the Soaring Eagles cage the Lonely Tigers: Probably. SSU can't be feeling a bit good about itself after a loss to NAIA Webber International, and the Eagles are at home. NCCU needs this victory to go into 2010 with a good feeling, and should get it.
Players to watch ...
NCCU: #11 LB Donald Laster, #15 QB Michael Johnson, #50 DL Teryl White, #83 WR Will Scott.
SSU: #1 QB Justin Babb, #9 WR Deleon Hollinger, #20 RB Justin Babb, #26 LB Antwan Allen.
Injury report ...
NCCU: DT Teryl White (shoulder) probable, LB Rakeem Vick (ankle) probable.
SSU: None reported.
Vegas line: None. Dunkel says NCCU by 15.
Score prediction: NCCU 31, SSU 14.