By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus
NEW HAVEN — As we step into the first weekend of October, the phrase “To be the man, you must beat the man” will be the prevailing theme. Two games, in particular, speak to this common refrain.
In Dallas, Grambling State (4-1, 1-0 SWAC) and Prairie View (2-2, 2-0) prepare to meet in the 94th Annual Southwest Airlines State Fair Classic on Saturday. Kickoff from the Cotton Bowl is set for 4 p.m. CT.
Ranked No. 19 in the FCS Coaches Poll, No. 21 in the STATS FCS Top 25 Poll, and No. 1 in the SBN Black College Football Poll, the Tigers have won four straight following their opening loss to Tulane.
The defending HBCU and SWAC champions are ranked No. 1 in the SWAC in 14 different categories, including team sacks, defensive touchdowns (fifth nationally) and scoring defense.
As for the Panthers, they started the year with losses to Sam Houston State and Nicholls but since then have reeled off a pair of SWAC victories over Alabama State and Jackson State.
The rivalry has gone to a new level since Prairie View’s 2009 win over GSU, ending a 21-game losing streak en route to the Panthers’ first SWAC Football Championship since 1964.
In the last eight years in the matchup, each team has won four times. In the last 10 years, PVAMU’s 68 wins are only bested by Grambling’s 76 wins. The schools have played 31 times in the State Fair Classic with the Tigers holding a 25-5 record.
Grambling State leads the overall series, 50-17-1, including winning the last three. The game can be heard live on both the Grambling State Sports Radio Network and the PVAMU Sports Radio Network.
Meanwhile, Howard (2-2, 1-0) will get yet another MEAC litmus test as the Bison host the three-time defending league champions from N.C. Central (3-1, 2-0) at Greene Stadium. The Eagles enter the game with a 17-game conference winning streak.
Two weeks ago, Howard used a scoring run by freshman quarterback Caylin Newton with 39 seconds remaining to outlast Bethune-Cookman 26-24. The win snapped a six-game losing streak to the Wildcats.
They’ll be looking to break a five-game losing streak against the Eagles. HU has been averaging just over 400 yards a game (417.3) this season in total offense. They’ll be meeting an NCCU defense that ranks ninth in NCAA Division I-FCS with an average of 8.3 tackles for loss per game.
The Eagles are also 16th in FCS with 3.0 sacks per game. In last week’s win at Florida A&M, they held the Rattlers to only 73 yards on the ground. Freshman running back Isaiah Totten’s nine-yard scoring run late in the fourth quarter proved to be the margin of victory.
Saturday’s kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. ET. The game can be heard live at http://www.NCCUEaglePride.com, WHBC96.3HD3, SiriusXM Channel 142, and Resident Network Channel 51.
What school holds the MEAC record for the most consecutive conference wins?
(Answer comes at the end of the story)
OTHER KEY GAMES
This week’s conference schedule started on Thursday night in Montgomery as Alcorn State defeated Alabama State 24-10 on ESPNU. Besides the State fair tussle in Texas, Saturday’s schedule will also highlight some other interesting matchups.
Alabama A&M has started conference play 2-0 for the first time since 2012. The Bulldogs will get a big test at Southern (2-3, 0-1 SWAC) in Baton Rouge this week where the Jaguars defeated them 59-31 a season ago.
The Bulldogs (2-3) have won five of their last six SWAC games including last week’s 27-14 win against Arkansas-Pine Bluff at Huntsville. They held the Golden Lions to just 133 total yards, including six sacks and seven tackles for loss.
Due to the threatening weather from Tropical Storm Nate, the start time for Saturday’s game has been moved. It will start at 1 p.m. CT.
Also, the aforementioned Golden Lions (2-3, 1-1) have already won more games this season than they did all of 2016 (1-10). They’ll meet a winless Mississippi Valley State squad (0-4, 0-1). It’s their first game at Golden Lion Stadium following a four-game road swing.
Eastern Division foes Fort Valley State (1-3, 1-1 SIAC) and Clark Atlanta (3-2, 2-1) will battle each other in Atlanta. The Panthers and Wildcats are both coming off a pair of tough road losses.
Fort Valley State fell behind 21-7 to Southern in the first quarter. The Wildcats did cut the lead to seven at the break, but they eventually fell to the Jaguars 31-14 at A. W. Mumford Stadium in Baton Rouge.
CAU fell to Grambling State last in the Chicago Football Classic at Soldier Field. The Panthers are in a three-way, second-place tie with the Wildcats State and Morehouse College in the East Division. Albany State holds a slim, first-place lead as they are 3-2, 2-0 in the SIAC.
Sitting at No. 19 in both national Division II polls, Bowie State (5-0, 2-0 CIAA) looks to remain dominant as they host Chowan (2-3, 2-0) at 4 p.m. ET. The Bulldogs rolled up 64 points in their win against Fayetteville State but also committed three turnovers in the win.
The Hawks edged J.C. Smith 10-7 last week in Charlotte. They enter the contest with the No. 3 passer in the CIAA in freshman quarterback Bryce Witt. On the year, he’s passed for 11 touchdowns, 1,090 yards while completing just over 54 percent of his passes.
Also, Virginia State will also try to stay perfect as they travel to meet Elizabeth City State (3-2, 1-1). The Trojans (4-0, 2-0) piled up 424 total offensive yards in their 56-18 victory over Livingstone at Alumni Memorial Stadium in Salisbury.
The Vikings fell to Shaw 23-17 last week at Durham County Memorial Stadium. An eight-yard touchdown scamper by junior running back Uriah Bethea with 1:19 remaining was the game-winning score. The Bears’ defense also did its part, forcing two ECSU fumbles and six sacks.
Friday’s Morgan State vs. South Carolina State contest on ESPNU served as the conference’s opener this week. A pair of homecoming games will also highlight Saturday’s play.
It’s homecoming week for North Carolina A&T as the Aggies (5-0, 2-0 MEAC) entertain a winless Delaware State squad at Greensboro (1 p.m. ET). A&T will be going after its seventh straight homecoming win as well as their first 6-0 start in 24 years. It will be the sixth 6-0 start in program history.
For the Hornets (0-4, 0-2), they’ve lost 23 of their last 25 MEAC games including the last 10. They have scored four touchdowns in four games while facing an Aggie team that has scored at least five touchdowns in all but one game this season.
Also, Hampton (2-2, 1-0) will host winless Savannah State (0-4, 0-2) in the Pirates’ homecoming at Armstrong Stadium. They return to action off its bye week to start a stretch of seven straight MEAC matchups to close the season. The Tigers have never beaten Hampton. The Pirates lead the overall series 7-0.
CLASSIC SPOTLIGHT: TUSKEGEE-MOREHOUSE CLASSIC
While both Morehouse College and Tuskegee enter their 82nd annual classic with identical 3-2 records, it would be safe to say that they’ve reached that record in completely opposite ways.
Tabbed by the league coaches to win the SIAC West, the Golden Tigers have struggled despite a 2-0 start in their division. A surprising 61-0 loss to the University of Findlay on the road as well as falling to rival Albany State have left many thinking TU could be in for a long season.
The Findlay defeat was an eye-opener for many. TU gave up nine first-half touchdowns and found themselves trailing 55-0 at halftime. It was the largest deficit TU has seen since falling behind in last year’s second-round playoff game at North Greenville 35-7.
They did bounce back to defeat Lane College 28-23 last week at Jackson.
As for the Maroon Tigers, they enter Saturday’s game with the SIAC’s top-ranked defense. In last week’s 31-21 home win against Kentucky State, they held the Thoroughbreds to 190 yards of total offense.
One thing to keep in mind, the change of seasons usually means trouble for TU opponents. In the last five years, Tuskegee has posted a record of 20-2 in the month of October. Their last October loss came in 2015 against UNC-Pembroke.
As for the rivalry, Tuskegee has won 19 of the last 23 meetings against Morehouse outscoring them 166-36 in the last four meetings. That includes last year’s 28-19 win where quarterback Kevin Lacey tossed four touchdown passes and threw for 300 yards.
The game, scheduled for a 2 p.m. ET kickoff, can be seen live on ASPIRE TV.
NEWS AND NOTES
A&T LEGEND HOWELL PASSES AT THE AGE OF 90
The North Carolina A&T State University family mourns the passing of football coaching legend Hornsby Howell, Sr. Howell died at the age of 90 on October 3rd. He was a nationally-known athletic administrator who began his career as a football trainer before working his way up to eventually becoming the head football and athletics director at N.C. A&T. Howell made a name for himself as the head coach of Aggies football from 1968-1976. In 1968, he was also named the school’s athletics director.
In his first season as the head coach, the Pittsburgh Courier named the Aggies the black college football national champions following an 8-1 season where their only loss was a 9-6 setback to Maryland State (now known as Maryland Eastern Shore). Two years later, Howell played a pivotal role in the Aggies transitioning from the CIAA, a league they were a member of since 1924, to the MEAC. The move would eventually lead to the Aggies becoming a Division I program.
Howell made the transition seamless, going 6-4-1 overall and 3-2-1 in the MEAC the first year before going 8-2 overall and 4-2 the second year. In 1975, Howell was responsible for leading the Aggies to the first of their eight MEAC championships as the Aggies finished 8-3 overall and 5-1 in the conference. During his coaching career at N.C. A&T, Howell went 55-34-4, had six winning seasons and three 8-win seasons. He is tied for second with Bert Piggot on the Aggies all-time wins list.
South Carolina State holds the MEAC record with 21 straight conference victories from 2008-10.