Shaw Claims CIAA Football Championship
(Durham, NC)- This time, Shaw's vaunted "bend don't break" defense didn't even bend.
With the CIAA Championship on the line, the Bears defense held Virginia State to only 132 yards – only 46 of that through the air – on their way to a 14-7 victory and the school's third championship in four years.
"This is a huge deal for these kids. We came so close last year, and those kids dug deep and found what they needed to come back and focus. And today, when things went wrong, they didn't panic, they just kept fighting," said Shaw Head Coach Darrell Asberry.
The only score the Bears gave up was on a blocked field goal that was returned 76 yards for a Trojan touchdown. The single time that Virginia State did manage to get into the red zone, Shaw's Gerald Kennedy picked off a pass in the end zone.
"I knew it was just a matter of time before the defense started jelling. I watched (first year defensive coordinator) Coach (Robert) Massey and his staff grow as one, and then watched the defense grow as one," Asberry said.
On the offensive side of the ball for Shaw, the Bears amassed 412 yards, but only two touchdowns. They had the ball for over 40 minutes of the game, putting together six drives of ten plays or more, and three drives that ate more than five minutes off the clock apiece. In the third quarter alone, the Bears had the ball for 13:22 of the 15-minute period.
Even with the long drives, the Bears made it into the red zone only four times – twice ending in touchdowns, once in the blocked field goal, and once when the team went for it on fourth down and failed to convert.
The two teams finished the first quarter without either finding the end zone. In the second, Raymond Williams and Kevin Atkins combined to drive the Bears downfield. Williams ran for a total of 33 yards, including a one-yard "jump over the pile" touchdown run (left), and Atkins threw for another 37 yards as the Bears took the 7-0 lead.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Bears kicked out of bounds, giving the Trojans outstanding field position on the penalty, but on the third play of the drive, Jarred Battle's pass was picked off by Kennedy. Shaw put together another strong drive, but time ran out in the first half before they could score, leaving the halftime score 7-0.
In the third, after two successive three-and-out drives, Shaw drove to the Trojan three-yard line, but failed to get into the end zone. Caleb Reid's field goal attempt was blocked and recovered by Alfred Ngauja who returned it 76 yards and tied the score at 7-7.
The teams then exchanged interceptions: Atkins was picked off by Ian White, followed on the next play by Battle being intercepted by Shaw's Rico Brown.
The Bears then put together another drive, starting at their own 16 and advancing to the VSU 41, where they were stopped and punted. VSU's Sean Smith fumbled the punt return and Daniel Lee recovered the ball on the Trojan six-yard line.
Backup quarterback Quinshon Odom entered the game for Atkins, who had suffered an ankle injury just before the punt, and two plays later, scored from two yards out on a quarterback keeper, giving the Bears a 14-7 win.
Virginia State answered with a strong drive that moved to the Bear 12-yard line. But Battle's throw into the end zone was picked off by Kennedy and neither team mounted a drive after that, sealing Shaw's 14-7 victory and the CIAA championship.
Williams had 117 yards rushing and the touchdown. Atkins was 16 for 28 with one interception and 183 yards in just over three quarters of play. It is not known if the injury is severe enough to impact playing time should the Bears advance to the NCAA tournament. Julius Gregory pulled in five catches for a total of 70 yards.
For the Trojans, Rahoo Walker had 37 yards rushing and Antwain Lyde another 32. Battle was five for 19 for 46 yards and three interceptions. Jeremy Pruitt led the Trojans with 17 tackles while LaQuentin Milo had 13.
The Bears now wait to hear if they will play in this year's NCAA Division II Football Tournament. The selections and pairings will be announced on ESPNews between 3:00 and 3:30 p.m. on Sunday.
For Asberry and the Bears, next week would just be another in what is becoming a long string of "win or go home" contests. The Bears had to beat Winston-Salem State two weeks ago in order to go into the game with Saint Augustine's still undefeated in the conference. They had to beat Saint Augustine's to get into the championship game, and had to win the championship game to help ensure that they would continue playing.
"We hope to be ranked high enough to host a game, but if not, we've had success on the road. We just have to keep working a little bit harder," he said. "We do understand that if you win you get to keep playing. These kids have been doing it and know what it takes."