O'KELLY-RIDDICK STADIUM/DURHAM It's the season football finale at N.C. Central, and so far the whole campaign has been a mixed bag.
NCCU went 0-6 through an extremely tough first "half" of the schedule, in which the Eagles dropped a pair of very winnable games in overtime.
Coach Mose Rison at that point set a goal of winning the last five in a row. Old Dominion derailed that idea two weeks ago, but now the idea is to win four of the last five and match last season's 4-7 finish.
The opponent is Savannah State (2-7), which is reeling with a couple of losses to teams below the Division I level. NCCU has beaten the Tigers the past two seasons, including the season-ender in Durham last year.
The home team is a solid favorite today on Senior Day, and responds with a 35-14 victory.
The Eagles waste no time scoring on their very first possession after the Tigers' Derek Williams comes up short on a 49-yard field goal attempt. Michael Johnson hits Andrew Johnson across the middle for a 69-yard touchdown strike, with Frankie Cardelle adding the kick at the 8:13 mark.
But the Tigers come right back, going 80 yards in 12 plays with quarterback Kurvin Curry going in from eight yards out. Williams adds the boot and it's 7-7 with 2:48 left in the first.
NCCU's offense measures up again on the ensuing drive, going 70 yards on 12 plays with the touchdown coming on a 12-yard pass to senior Will Scott. The key play comes on fourth and 6 at the SSU 36, when quarterback Johnson works his way out of a jam in the backfield and dives for an eight-yard gain. Cardelle's kick makes it 14-7 with 12:17 left in the half.
The Eagles score again on their possession following the second-half kickoff. Johnson finds Scott down the right sideline for a 56-yard hookup that ends a four-play, 73-yard drive. Cardelle's kick makes it 21-7 at 13:18.
SSU trims lead back to a touchdown with 4:29 left in the third, as Curry fires a bullet to Deleon Hollinger in the right corner of the end zone and Williams adds the boot.
But NCCU gets its working margin back on a big play with 11:34 to go, as Tony McCord breaks through the line and sprints 80 yards untouched with Cardelle adding the kick.
And the Eagles put it away with 5:37 to play, when Johnson and Scott hook up for a 24-yard touchdown strike with Cardelle adding the boot.
They said it ...
NCCU coach Mose Rison: ""Obviously we would like to have finished all five, but I thought it was a strong finish. I really watched this football team grow up. Curry is a good football player. We knew that going in. He likes to start running and we knew that. I guess the thing we had going for us is we had played against a couple of quarterbacks like that earlier in the year (Appalachian State's Armanti Edwards and Old Dominion's Thomas DeMarco). ...
"That (first) play happened just the way we said it was going to happen. Without question that gave us a lot of momentum right from the start. Before Tony's run, the momentum swung the other way. He hadn't had a run like that all year. We knew once we got him into the open field nobody was going to catch him, because he can definitely run."
Scott: "I was real blessed to come out here, first off. I hurt my ankle last week. So to have three touchdowns with my body all messed up (including a broken hand from the homecoming game three weeks ago) was a real blessing. Michael was throwing perfect for me. I was very pleased with the way he threw the ball and the decisions he made."
NCCU senior safety Derek Harvey, on his career-high 15 tackles: "It was a great way to go out. Curry's a good quarterback and a good athlete, but our defensive speed kept him contained for the most part. Our defense as a whole did a good job. My inner man, my heart, my drive for the last game of my senior year got me through today. This was my last game and I wanted the fans to see what I could do."
What does it all mean?
That the Eagles have a 4-7 record for the second straight season and can start the '"what-ifs." And that SSU needs to add to its 30 scholarships to have a chance to compete at this level.
Stars of the game
1. Scott, tying his career best with three touchdowns while catching seven passes for 120 yards.
2. Michael Johnson, completing 15 of 22 for 233 yards with four touchdowns and an interception.
3. Curry, with 254 yards total offense.
Play of the game
McCord's touchdown run for the knockout.
NCCU leads 4-0-1.
NCCU: Won 2.
SSU: Lost 2.