HBCU Football Spotlight: Week One

By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus

NEW HAVEN — Even before a down was played during the first full week of black college football, the power of Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath was felt by the HBCU community.

Earlier in the week, Saturday’s Labor Day Classic XXXIII matchup between Prairie View A&M and Texas Southern was rescheduled for BBVA Compass Stadium on Thanksgiving Weekend, with a date and time to be announced.

The matchup was last played on Thanksgiving Weekend in 2005 due to Hurricane Katrina. In fact, Prairie View A&M University postponed all home athletic events this week.

Thursday’s game between Winston-Salem State and UNC Pembroke which was originally scheduled for a 7 p.m. ET start.  However, the contest was moved up to 3 p.m. due to thunderstorms that are expected to hit much of North Carolina over the weekend as the remnants of Harvey enter the area.

Meanwhile, the Bulldogs of South Carolina State and the Jaguars of Southern are set to meet Sunday afternoon in the 2017 MEAC-SWAC Challenge. This year’s contest, scheduled for a 1:30 p.m. ET start on ESPN2, will be played at A.W. Mumford Stadium in Baton Rouge.

It’s the first meeting between the two schools since the 1997 Heritage Bowl in Atlanta, won by Southern 34-28. The Jaguars will be without the SWAC’s all-time leading rusher in Lenard Tillery and FCS-record setting receiver and return man Willie Quinn.

However, back to lead the offense at quarterback is Austin Howard, who has earned all-SWAC honors in some fashion since seizing the starting job. After tossing for 2,650 yards and 29 scores (to just eight interceptions), the senior signal-caller is as efficient as it gets in the league at the position.

Defensively, the Jags stand to return arguably the most experienced unit in the league. Aaron Tiller (60 tackles, 17.5 TFL, nine sacks) is back for his senior season to lead the pass rush, and Kentavious Preston (60 tackles, 9.5 TFL) anchors the linebacking corps along with Tiller.

As for South Carolina State, they have 14 returning starters (eight on offense, six on defense) from last year’s 5-6 squad. 10 players were given All-MEAC preseason honors including standout linebacker Darius Leonard.

The MEAC’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2016, Leonard lived up to expectations last season, finishing with a MEAC-leading and career-high 124 tackles, including 14.5 tackles for loss and four (4) forced fumbles.

He was also tabbed as SBN’s Mel Blount National Defensive Player of the Year in 2016 while also being named a finalist for this year’s Butkus Award, honoring the nation’s best linebacker.

The Bulldogs are 1-5 all-time against the Jaguars. Also, Buddy Pough’s squad is undefeated in their MEAC/SWAC Challenge history with wins in 2005 (27-14 over Alabama State), 2009 (34-31 over Grambling State), and 2015 (35-7 over Arkansas-Pine Bluff).

Southern has won in both of their previous appearances. The Jags defeated Florida A&M 33-27 in 2007 and Delaware State 37-27 in 2010. Both games represent the SWAC’s only victories in the yearly classic.

 

OTHER GAMES TO WATCH

MEAC

The three-time defending league champs from N.C. Central begin their 2017 season just up the road when they visit Duke in the Bull City Gridiron Classic at 6 p.m. ET. Saturday will be the sixth meeting between Durham foes as the Blue Devils lead the all-time series 5-0. Eagle head coach Jerry Mack has not only captured conference titles in each of his first three seasons at NCCU, but he became the first head coach in school history to win 24 games in his first three years. The game can be seen live on the ACC Network.

 

Meanwhile, the Mike London era begins this weekend in Las Vegas as Howard faces UNLV for the first time ever at 9 p.m. ET. The Bison will face all of its non-conference opponents for the first time ever in 2017. Caylin Newton, the brother of Carolina Panther QB Cam Newton, is one of the several candidates battling for playing time at quarterback to open the season.

 

Also, Hampton travels north to Athens, Ohio to face Ohio of the MAC at 7 p.m. ET. HU rarely steps in the FBS ranks as the Pirates have played only three FBS games since 2012. Hampton has big shoes to fill as it has to replace four-year letter winner Jaylian Williamson at quarterback. The game can be seen live on ESPN3.

 

SIAC

The Gabe Giardina era at Albany State begins as the Golden Rams host Valdosta State in their home opener Saturday at 7 p.m. ET. The former offensive coordinator and offensive line coach at Charleston Southern will make his debut leading a squad that was tabbed to win the Eastern Division by the league coaches.

 

Meanwhile, Western Division favorite Tuskegee travels to Montgomery on Saturday to meet the Hornets of Alabama State in the Labor Day Classic at 7 p.m. ET. The last time the two teams played, Tuskegee handed ASU a 27-25 defeat in their new stadium. The 2012 victory created an even further gap in the overall series record which is now 61-33-4 in favor of the Golden Tigers.

 

Also on Saturday, Alcorn State opens up against Miles College at Lorman, Mississippi at 6 p.m. ET. Tabbed to finish just behind Tuskegee in the West, the Golden Bears had five players selected for six spots on the two preseason teams. The Braves will be in search of their fourth consecutive SWAC Eastern Division crown.

 

SWAC

 

Defending champion Grambling State is the lone SWAC team ranked in the FCS Preseason Coaches Poll. The No. 21 Tigers have won 11 consecutive games dating back to last season’s opener at Arizona. GSU travels to take on Tulane at 7 p.m. ET, who dropped their final six games of the 2016 season. The game can be seen live on ESPN3.

 

Also, Alabama A&M will travel down the state south to take on the University of Alabama-Birmingham on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. ET. The Blazers are returning to football after a 1,007-day hiatus with an assortment of patient student-athletes, transfers, and other young players.

 

And, Mississippi Valley State opens the 2017 campaign with a difficult trek, having five of their first six on the road including an opening tilt at nationally-ranked North Dakota State in Fargo, North Dakota at 2:30 p.m. ET. The game can be seen live on ESPN3.

 

CIAA

 

The two-time defending Northern Division champs from Bowie State will open their season Saturday at 3 p.m. ET when they travel to Greensburg, Pa. to meet the Griffins of Seton Hill. With 17 starters return from last year’s 7-4 squad, BSU is poised to make a return trip to the CIAA Championship Game. However, SHU has been a thorn in the Bulldogs’ side. They’ve won both previous meetings including a 50-48 shootout at Bowie last year.

 

In one of the few conference games scheduled for the opening week, Fayetteville State travels to Murfreesboro to meet Chowan at Garrison Stadium at 6 p.m. ET. The Hawks have posted back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in program history going 6-4 overall each of the last two seasons. As for the Broncos, they’re looking to get off to a fast start after opening 0-5 in 2016. Chowan holds the all-time series lead 4-3 and has won the last three meetings.

 

Also, Virginia State travels to Dick Price Stadium to meet crosstown rival Norfolk State in the Labor Day Classic at 6 p.m. ET. Spartan head coach Latrell Scott previously served as head coach at VSU from 2013-14 and is one of four staff members with ties to VSU. The Trojans lead the all-time series with NSU. The Spartans have won 23 games on the field, but vacated three wins, leaving the series at 26-20-1 in VSU’s favor.

 

TRIVIA QUESTION

Winston-Salem State running back Kerrion Moore ran for 230 yards and three touchdowns in the Rams’ 34-31 win Thursday against UNC Pembroke. Who was the last WSSU back to run for over 200 yards in a game prior to Moore?

(Answer comes at the end of the story)

THURSDAY’S SCORES

Winston-Salem State 34, UNC Pembroke 31

Catawba 49, St. Aug’s 0

West Georgia 34, Fort Valley State 9

Tennessee State 17, Georgia State 10

Clark Atlanta 32, Mississippi College 29 (OT)

Arkansas 49, Florida A&M 7

Delaware 22, Delaware State 3

 

HBCU NEWS AND NOTES

 

SWAC DIGITAL NETWORK ANNOUNCES FALL SCHEDULE

The Southwestern Athletic Conference has announced its fall schedule of SWAC Digital Network programming, with 12 events to be broadcast through the league’s flagship content provider.

The announcement was made Wednesday by Commissioner Duer Sharp. The slate kicks off on the gridiron, where SDN will carry the Saturday, Sept. 23 tilt between Southern and Alcorn State, two perennial contenders for the SWAC Football Championship. From there, the focus moves to the pitch to showcase a match of top soccer programs between the 2015 SWAC Champions Howard and Mississippi Valley State from Vestavia Hills, Ala. at Sicard Hollow Field on Friday, Sept. 29.

The first volleyball game of SDN will feature the SWAC championship runners’ up Texas Southern as it travels to take on Grambling State on Oct. 2 in a return to Big Monday.

Soccer will take center stage for back-to-back weeks when Arkansas-Pine Bluff takes on Texas Southern on Sunday, Oct. 8 followed by a SWAC Championship rematch between defending champion Alabama State and Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Sunday, Oct.  15. Another SWAC championship rematch will take center stage the following week when defending SWAC East Division Champions Alcorn State takes on the defending SWAC Champions and Celebration Bowl winners Grambling State on Saturday, Oct. 21.

Big Monday continues with Southern taking on Prairie View A&M on Oct. 30 for a match on the volleyball courts.  The first championship broadcast on SDN follows on Nov. 5 with the SWAC Soccer Championship game from the campus of Prairie View A&M, and from there, a marquee football matchup awaits on the gridiron when Grambling State goes up against the Alabama State Hornets on Saturday, Nov. 11.

A potential football playoff push could be up for grabs as Alcorn State and Jackson meet in a late season Eastern Division tussle on Saturday, Nov. 18 and the fall ledger comes to a close on Dec. 1 with the SWAC Football Championship Media Day event at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas previewing the Final Judgment.

 

TRIVIA ANSWER

On September 24, 2011, WSSU’s Nic Cooper rushed for 257 yards on 16 carries in a 56-20 win over Fayetteville State.

 

SATURDAY AUDIO/VIDEO

Bowie State at Seton Hill: http://www.westmorelandsports.com/broadcast

Fayetteville State at Chowan: http://new.livestream.com/chowan

Virginia State at Norfolk State: http://www.nsuspartans.com/watch

N.C. Central at Duke: http://www.NCCUEaglePride.com 

Howard at UNLV: http://www.unlvrebels.com

Hampton at Ohio: https://tunein.com/radio/Ohio-IMG-Sports-Network-s230324/

Valdosta State at Albany State: https://portal.stretchinternet.com/albanystate/

Tuskegee at Alabama State: https://portal.stretchinternet.com/tuskegee/portal.htm?eventId=382526&streamType=audio

Miles College at Alcorn State: http://www.alcornsports.com/watch/?Live=57&type=Live

Grambling State at Tulane: http://thepeach993.com/

Alabama A&M at UAB: http://wjab.org/#stream/0

Mississippi Valley State at North Dakota State: http://www.gobison.com/watch/?Live=1999&type=Live

anthonymcclean@basnnewsroom.com

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