By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus
NEW HAVEN — To classify the Rams of Winston-Salem State University as the dominant football program in the CIAA over the last five years would be making a huge understatement.
In that span under coaches Connell Maynor and Kienus Boulware, Winston-Salem State has won three CIAA championships and made three appearances in the NCAA Division II playoffs.
So it shouldn’t be to anyone’s surprise that for the third consecutive season, the Rams have been selected to repeat as champions by the league’s coaches. The defending champs finished 9-3 last season with a 7-0 conference record.
Among WSSU’s top returnees is junior defensive end Jarrell Bright. A member of the Black College Football Player of the Year Watch List, Bright picked up 40 total tackles, including 30 solos, and 12 sacks last season.
The Rams will open their 2017 campaign on Thursday at Grace P. Johnson Stadium to battle the Braves of UNC Pembroke. It’s the sixth straight year that these in-state rivals have met in their respective season openers.
After a season that saw UNCP set a single season record for victories (10-2), including its first NCAA postseason win, the Braves open the season ranked No. 19 in the AFCA Division II Coaches’ Top 25 Preseason Poll.
The game, which was originally scheduled for a 7 p.m. ET start, has been moved up to a 3 p.m. kickoff due to impending thunderstorms that are expected to consume much of North Carolina over the next three days as both the remnants of Hurricane Harvey enter the area.
The Braves have won three of the previous five meetings including last year’s 20-17 victory at Bowman Gray Stadium. However, WSSU leads the all-time series with the Braves 4-3.
Also on Thursday night, the Tigers of Tennessee State will travel to Atlanta to meet the Panthers of Georgia State. It’s the first meeting between the two schools on the gridiron.
It also marks the second-straight season TSU has taken on an FBS opponent after only playing two previous games ever against an FBS team. The Tigers (7-4 in 2016) are currently 0-3 all-time against higher division teams.
The Tigers head into the 2017 season where the program welcomes seven offensive and eight defensive starters back for a team predicted to finish third in the Ohio Valley Conference.
Thursday’s game marks the first at the new Georgia State Stadium, which was renovated from Turner Field when the Atlanta Braves moved to a new stadium. The Panthers are entering their eighth year of existence in 2017 and will do so under first-year head coach Mark Elliott who was most recently the former co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach at South Carolina.
The game, scheduled for a 7 pm ET kickoff, can be seen live on ESPN3.
OTHER THURSDAY GAMES (all games are 7 pm ET unless noted)
FLORIDA A&M at ARKANSAS
Fresh off their dominating 29-7 season-opening win over Texas Southern, the Rattlers (1-0) jump knee-deep into the SEC as they travel to Little Rock to take on the Razorbacks at War Memorial Stadium. In the victory over TSU, FAMU’s offense rolled up 415 total yards, rushing for 193 yards on 42 attempts, while two quarterbacks – starter Ryan Stanley, and the number two man, Vincent Jeffries – combined for 222 yards through the air. Needless to say, they’ll have their hands full as they face the Razorbacks for the first time. The game, scheduled for 8 p.m. ET, can be seen live on the SEC Network.
DELAWARE STATE at DELAWARE
Coming off a disastrous 0-11 (0-8 MEAC) campaign in 2016, the Hornets will look to right the ship against the Blue Hens in the First State Cup Classic at Newark. While 10 players received MEAC preseason recognition, the league’s coaches tabbed DSU to finish last overall. Among the Hornets’ returnees are sophomore offensive lineman Joshua Fala and Cade Pedro. They helped pave the way for two of the MEAC top five rushers in 2016. The duo was also key to the Hornets’ No. 6 MEAC ranking in rushing yards (128.4 ypg) last season, the team’s best showing in eight years.
MISSISSIPPI COLLEGE at CLARK ATLANTA
Coming off a 5-5 campaign (3-4 in the SIAC), the Panthers will host the Choctaws in their home opener at CAU Panther Stadium. Mississippi College (3-7, 1-7) is coming off their first season of full eligibility in Division II and the Gulf South Conference. As for CAU, they bring back quarterback Johnathon McCrary, the SIAC’s Preseason Offensive Player of the Year. In his first season for the Panthers, he completed 142-of-256 passes for 1,903 yards along with 14 touchdowns. It’s the first meeting between the two schools.
ST. AUGUSTINE’S at CATAWBA COLLEGE
For the first time since re-instituting the football program in 2002, the Falcons will begin their season on a Thursday night. It’s the first meeting between the schools since a 30-5 St. Aug’s home win in 2011. SAU is 3-1 all-time against Catawba including victories in their last two meetings. The Falcons, looking to bounce back from last year’s 2-8 mark, are also 2-0 against the Indians on the road in Shuford Stadium.
FORT VALLEY STATE at WEST GEORGIA
The defending SIAC champions will open defense of their crown just up the road in Carrollton to meet the Wolves (7-4 last season). It’s the first meeting between the schools and it’s UWG’s first Thursday night season opener at University Stadium. FVSU (4-6, 3-1 in the SIAC last year), tabbed to finish second in the Eastern Division, is looking to replace a pair of All-SIAC First Team performers in quarterback/wide receiver Otis Brown and defensive back Brian Walker.
Who was the last school to win three straight CIAA Championship games?
(Answer comes at the end of the column)
HBCU NEWS AND NOTES
CIAA, ALOOMPA TO FORM MOBILE APP FOR 2018 BASKETBALL TOURNEY
The Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association has announced a partnership with Aloompa, a creator of innovative products for live music concerts, sports, conferences and community events, to name a few.
The two organizations will collaborate on the production of a mobile application that is expected to launch in Winter 2017. It will be available for fans to download via iTunes and Google Play.
Throughout 2017, hundreds of festivals and events have been using Aloompa to power their on-site experiences and create memorable moments for fans and brands, including BET Experience, New York Comicon, X Games, Outside Lands, and more.
“We are beyond excited to partner with Aloompa and create a product that will enhance the CIAA basketball tournament experience for our students, alumni, and fans,” said Commissioner Jacqie McWilliams. “Each year, we strive to find more progressive and innovative ways for attendees to blend the athletic, social, educational and professional components of our annual tournament, and I believe this is a great start to our efforts for the 2018 Tournament.”
A few core features the app will include are: ticket purchase and hotel information; an official event schedule from which fans can create their own lineup according to the events they want to attend; tournament bracket; GPS map; performer & event details; stream of conference news and social media posts; points of interest such as restaurants, exhibitors and vendors.
NBA ALL-STAR HARDEN DONATES $100,000 TO TEXAS SOUTHERN
Houston Rockets all-pro guard James Harden recently donated $100,000 to Texas Southern University in support of student scholarships.
FOX 26 in Houston broke the story on the major gift, coming just one month after the SIAC and SWAC launched an inaugural skills combine for HBCU players from the two historically black conferences at the National Basketball Players Association Top 50 basketball camp at Clark Atlanta/Morehouse College in Atlanta, Ga.
Harden was also giving away scholarships at his inaugural JH-Town weekend at the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Houston when 150 kids received backpacks filled with school supplies after his charity basketball camp at Rice University this past Saturday and Sunday.
“I’ve been in Houston for five years,” said Harden at the Boys and Girls Club.
“Now is an opportunity to be a foot step on it—not just on the basketball court. I still have a long way to go. I’ve always been about the community. I’ve always been about people spreading love and joy. This is an opportunity not only for one day but for the entire weekend to kind of touch the city and make sure that they feel me and make sure that I feel them a little bit. We are giving away 13 scholarships to kids in high schools to get them through college and not have to worry about anything so they can make their family better.”
From 1981 to 1983, the Panthers of Virginia Union won three straight CIAA Championship games under legendary head coach Willard Bailey. VUU defeated N.C. Central in 1981 (43-7) and 1982 (33-26) which were both played in Charlotte. In 1983, they beat Winston-Salem State 34-7 at Groves Stadium in Winston-Salem to complete the three-peat.
By the way, the last team to win three straight CIAA titles was Hampton who pulled the trick off from 1992 through 1994. The Pirates won the 1992 championship game, but the league disbanded the title game the next season and didn’t reinstate it until the 2000 season.
THURSDAY NIGHT AUDIO/VIDEO
CLARK ATLANTA: https://portal.stretchinternet.com/mc/
ST. AUGUSTINE’S: https://portal.stretchinternet.com/catawba/
FORT VALLEY STATE: https://www.uwgsports.com
NOTE: Don’t forget to check back with BASN Newsroom later this week as we preview this weekend’s HBCU football contests including the MEAC-SWAC Challenge between Southern University and South Carolina State.