By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus
NEW HAVEN — Slowly but surely, the championship chase in HBCU football is starting to evolve. Last weekend, we saw a battle of unbeatens in the CIAA between Bowie State and Virginia State.
While there’s another mini showdown in the CIAA this weekend (we’ll get to that a bit later), our focus this week is a possible preview of this year’s SWAC Championship Game. To no one’s surprise, it’s the two teams who’re favored to win their respective division crowns.
Eastern Division-leading Alcorn State (5-2, 3-0 SWAC) travels to Eddie G. Robinson Memorial Stadium Saturday afternoon to meet Western Division leader Grambling State (5-1, 2-0) in the Tigers’ homecoming game.
They’ve met in the last three SWAC Championship games with Grambling State winning last year following Alcorn’s back-to-back crowns in 2014 and 2015. A quick look at their respective numbers so far makes you realize why there may be a fourth chapter in December.
The Braves (31.0 points per game) and Tigers (29.3 ppg.) are 1-2 in the SWAC in scoring
offense and first (GSU 20.2 ppg.) and second (ASU 21.6 ppg.) in scoring defense. Alcorn
also leads in total offense (440.9 ypg.) and rushing offense (211.3 ypg.) while Grambling has the league’s stingiest run defense (62.7 ypg.).
Both teams also boast a pair of the best offensive players in the nation.
Running backs De’Lance Turner of ASU (112.6 ypg., 3 TDs) and GSU’s Martez Carter (88.2 ypg., 5 TDs) are 1-2 in rushing in the SWAC while quarterbacks Lenorris Footman of Alcorn (210.3 ypg., 9 TDs) and Devante Kincade of Grambling (194.0 ypg. 8 TDs) are 1-2 in passing.
Nationally, Grambling State moved up two spots to No. 17 in the FCS Coaches Top 25, while jumping three spots to No. 17 in the STATS FCS Top 25 Poll. The defending HBCU champs are also in the top spot in the SBN Sports Network Black College Football Poll and in the Urban Media Today Black College Football Poll.
Saturday marks the third time the Braves and Tigers have met in 13 months, and fourth time since the 2015 SWAC title contest, the last time Grambling lost a SWAC game. In the regular season, GSU hasn’t dropped a conference game since Nov. 29, 2014, to Southern, winners of 20 straight.
Grambling State leads the overall series, 44-21-3, including winning the last two meetings. The game, scheduled for a 2 p.m. CT kickoff, can be seen live on SWAC Digital Network.
OTHER KEY GAMES
Seeking to remain perfect, North Carolina A&T (7-0, 4-0) will host Bethune-Cookman (3-3, 2-1) this Saturday. Three of A&T’s final four regular-season games are at home in Aggie Stadium as they seek their third MEAC title in four years.
The Aggies defeated Florida A&M 31-20 in their homecoming at Greensboro, but not without a fight from the Rattlers. A&T turned the ball over three times, were outgained 171-65 in total offense in the second half and were penalized eight times.
As for the Bulldogs, they outlasted South Carolina State 12-9 at Daytona Beach. Bethune-Cookman won for the first time in recorded history without scoring an offensive touchdown.
Junior placekicker Uriel Hernandez was 4-of-5 on the day, tying Bethune-Cookman’s record for most field goals in a game. Marc McLachlan also kicked four in a 33-30 win over South Carolina State on October 14, 1989.
The game, scheduled for a 1 p.m. ET kickoff, will air live on ESPN3/Watch ESPN and will be aired on a tape-delayed basis on ESPNU at 10 p.m. ET Saturday night.
Also, N.C. Central and Hampton will look to remain unbeaten in MEAC play as well this weekend. The Eagles (5-1, 3-0) will host Norfolk State (2-4, 2-1) in a 2 p.m. ET contest at O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium.
Ranked No. 25 in this week’s STATS FCS Top 25 poll, N.C. Central has won 11 straight home games, the longest home win streak in school history and the fourth-longest current streak in FCS football.
They’ve also won 18 consecutive MEAC games, which is the second-longest current streak in FCS football to Jacksonville State’s 27 straight Ohio Valley Conference wins. South Carolina State holds the MEAC record with 21 straight victories from 2008-10.
As for the Pirates (4-2, 3-0), they’ll host Florida A&M (3-4, 1-3) in their homecoming contest scheduled for 2 p.m. ET at Armstrong Stadium. Last week, Hampton snapped a three-game losing streak to Norfolk State as they defeated the Spartans 16-14 in the “Battle Of The Bay”.
In a key Eastern Division battle, Albany State (5-2, 2-0) travels to CAU Panther Stadium to battle Clark Atlanta (3-4, 0-2) in the Panthers’ homecoming. ASU’s offense is ranked No. 1 in the SIAC and is powered by the conference’s leading rusher, McKinley Habersham (737 yards, 105 ypg).
On defense, the Golden Rams have the third-best defense in the conference (CAU is fourth). The Panthers’ offense will be looking to get back on track after they were stymied last week by Benedict College (a 14-3 loss) for the first time this season.
The Panthers are second in scoring offense, total offense and pass offense. Defensively, CAU is led by linebackers Harding Harper and Jaquatin Victrum. Harper is the SIAC’s third-leading tackler, while Victrum has 49 tackles and two sacks.
The game, scheduled for a 2 p.m. ET kickoff, can be seen live on the Aspire Network.
Also, Western Division-leading Miles College (4-3, 4-1) will host Lane College (1-6, 0-5) at Sloan-Alumni Stadium at 4 p.m. ET. The Golden Bears put on an impressive homecoming performance against Kentucky State as they routed the Thoroughbreds 35-0.
After a season-opening win against Texas College, the Dragons have lost six straight.
In the only other conference game on the schedule, Southern (3-3, 1-1) travels to Jackson State to meet the winless Tigers (0-6, 0-2) at 6 p.m. CT. The Jaguars will see a Tiger team in transition following their loss to Tuskegee.
Earlier in the week, JSU head coach Tony Hughes announced that Chad Germany, a former Southern assistant, would relinquish play-calling duties to co-offensive coordinator Derrick McCall for Saturday’s game.
Germany spent four seasons as Southern’s offensive coordinator, calling offensive plays from 2012-15. He resigned in December 2015 and joined Hughes’ staff as the offensive coordinator before the 2016 season.
The Tigers are scoring 13.2 points per game, and have been held to single digits three times. In fact, JSU ranks in the bottom 12 nationally in passing, rushing and scoring offense.
After their 47-35 win over Bowie State last week, Virginia State (6-0, 4-0) looks to remain perfect as they travel to Lincoln University to face the winless Lions (0-7, 0-4) at 1 p.m. ET in LU’s homecoming at Lions Stadium.
The Trojans, now ranked No. 21 in the latest Division II American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) poll, rolled up 596 yards of total offense against the Bulldogs. Running back Trenton Cannon carried the ball 19 times for 239 yards and adding one touchdown.
Lincoln has been outscored 230-50 in their last four games including last week’s 56-18 loss to Elizabeth City State. Despite the losses, the Lions have amassed over 300 yards of total offense in their last two games.
Bowie (6-1, 3-1) looks to bounce back as they host Virginia Union (5-2, 4-0) at 1 p.m. ET.
Also, St. Aug’s travels to Fayetteville State to meet the Broncos (2 p.m. ET) in a battle for first place in the Southern Division. Both the Falcons (3-1 CIAA, 3-4 overall) and Broncos (2-2 CIAA, 3-4 overall) are tied for first at 2-0.
The Falcons pulled off the league’s biggest upset to date as they defeated two-time defending CIAA champion Winston-Salem State 17-14 at Raleigh. Sam Boyd caught a
nine-yard touchdown pass from Demetrius Lewis with 29 seconds left to secure the victory.
The Falcons won their first two division contests for the first time since 2010 when they last defeated the Rams. They also have handed the Rams two of their four division losses since Winston-Salem State re-joined the CIAA the same year.
As for the Broncos, Stevie Green rushed for 120 yards and scored three touchdowns, and Richard Latimer threw for 147 yards on 11 of 20 passing in their 41-16 victory over Johnson C. Smith.
The Falcons are 2-12 including 0-6 on the road against Fayetteville State since 2002.
NEWS AND NOTES
NFL TO HOST SOCIAL ACTIVISM BOOT CAMP AT MOREHOUSE COLLEGE
Players and officials from the National Football League have announced a new partnership to establish community advocacy opportunities and platforms, and Morehouse College as host for a signature initiative in this new program – a social activism boot camp.
The story was broken last week by Howard University alum and ESPN pro football reporter Jim Trotter, who detailed elements of the Morehouse boot camp proposal and talks between the NFL commissioner’s office and the NFL Players Association, which led to a joint endorsement of legislation calling for reform in criminal sentencing for nonviolent offenses.
Scheduled to be held in February 2018, the boot camp will invite professional athletes across multiple sports and leagues to dialog about advancing equity in underrepresented communities on criminal justice and sociopolitical engagement.
Players and owners in the NFL met earlier in the week to discuss several issues connected to recent pregame protests, which players in the majority African American league believe have been contorted by rhetoric from President Donald Trump, who has called for players to be fired for kneeling during the national anthem.
It is the latest in engagement between the NFL and historically black colleges and universities, which in recent years has yielded Super Bowl tributes to Pro Football Hall of Fame members who graduated from black colleges, HBCU alumni being named as full-time referees, and sports management training pipelines from HBCUs to the NFL and other professional leagues.