Now It Gets Real

by Craig R. Turner
Published: September 26, 2019

Week 4 marked the end of the non conference season and for a few teams it provided a hopeful omen going forward into the first full week of MEAC play. N.C. A&T and S.C. State both had the weekend off so most all of the attention was directed to the happenings in Dover, DE and Tallahassee, FL.

Florida A&M jumped out to a big halftime lead, lost it, and then put together a late rally in the fourth quarter to defeat SWAC foe Southern 27-21 in front of a capacity crowd of over 27,000, a record for a non homecoming game for the Rattlers. Senior QB Ryan Stanley hit Xavier Smith for a 17 -yard TD pass and then converted a two point conversion with 3:32 remaining to seal the win.

Bethune Cookman wrapped up a 2019 clean sweep by the MEAC with its second victory over a SWAC opponent this year with a 22-6 win over Mississippi Valley as RB Isaac Washington ran for 149 yards and two touchdowns.

North Carolina Central had the best offensive performance of the year as true freshman QB Davius Richard threw for 208 yards and three touchdowns while the defense allowed just 91 yards of total offense as the Eagles routed Elizabeth City 45-7.

Morgan State gave Army a real battle for three quarters before the Black Knights kicked their triple option offense into high gear and ran away in the fourth for a 52-21 win over the Bears. Army’s 403 yards rushing was a season high for them.

#8 Montana State substituted reserve quarterback Tucker Rovig in as the starter at the last minute against Norfolk State and the understudy didn’t miss a beat for the Bobcats as he threw for 221 yards and four touchdowns in a 56-21 thrashing of the Spartans.

Visiting Howard turned in their best defensive performance of the year and the Bison, despite a incredibly poor kicking game, generated just enough red zone offense to upend Delaware State 24-9 on their homecoming. It marked the first win at Howard for new Bison head coach Ron Prince.

MEAC play will start in earnest on Thursday night when #17 N.C. A&T (2-1, 0-0) will entertain Delaware State (1-2, 0-1) on prime time national TV on ESPNU at 7:30 p.m.

On Saturday Bethune Cookman (2-1,0-0) will travel up to Howard (1-3, 1-0) in what will be key early season match-up on ESPN3 at 1:00 p.m.

Florida A&M (2-1, 0-0) will need to come back down to earth very quickly after their big win of last week as they wander into Dick Price Stadium to do battle with a pesky and still dangerous Norfolk State (1-3, 0-0) for 4:00 p.m. kickoff on ESPN3.

N.C. Central (1-3,0-0) will try to make it two in a row as they will tussle with winless Morgan State (0-3, 0-0) in Baltimore at 6:00 p.m. on ESPN3.

South Carolina State will have its second week bye off in a row because of a most unusual scheduling quirk.

A few short years ago Delaware State was floundering in a not so good spot in the college football world…. pretty much a sure win on everyone’s schedule. The Hornet program went 3-30 from 2015 to 2017 and had faired only marginally better in the four years preceding that period going 16-29. Clearly what was needed was a change in both direction and in attitude. An attitude that was once the trademark of the dominating DSU squads of the 1980’s and early 90’s coached by the great Bill Collick or the championship runs of the mid-2000s under Al Lavan.

The Hornet athletic brain trust decided to try to tap into one of those vintage kegs of football prowess when they tabbed ex NFL star, All-American, and DSU Hall of Famer Rod Milstead. the Hornets won just three games last year but they were impressive in both their effort and improvement in winning 3 of their last four including a big upset win over N.C. Central.

DSU still has a ways to go before they become a serious contender but the “gimme” moniker no longer applies to them. This year the Hornets have moved away from the read option heavy offense of a year ago to a more common spread offense that seeks to throw the ball far more with a standard three wides.

Milstead has given the reigns of the offense over to true freshman quarterback Tylik Bethea (6-5,190) who has already gained Rookie of the Week honors earlier this year. Bethea is a tall pocket passer with a big arm with a good deep ball. He’s connected on 37-78 for 441 yards for 4 touchdowns and 2 interceptions.

Catching his passes will be Kwannah Rollie (6-0, 200, Jr.,) who has 16 receptions for 227 yards and 3 TDS and is also the Hornets top return man. When the Hornets run the ball they’ll hand it to seniors Bryant Dallas (5-8,200) and the quick scat back Mike Waters (5-8,165).

Up front the big men moving the pile will be Kaiden Crawford (6-5,310, Sr.), Matthew Derks (6-3,315, Jr.) , and James King (6-4,315, Sr.)

Defensively the guy that makes everything go for DSU is all-MEAC middle linebacker and preseason Player of the Year pick Brian Cavicante (6-0,220). The Portsmouth, Va native is extremely active sideline to sideline and often allowed to roam the field take some chances in order to disrupt and harass the offense. Sophomore Brook Parker (6-1,200) is another active linebacker on the outside who leads the team in stops.

The defensive front is experienced and also tenacious. Graduate seniors Christian Johnson (6-2, 255) and transfer Brandon Carswell (6-0, 240) will serve as bookends along the front line this season. The tackles will be converted offensive lineman Liki Seu (6-2, 340, Jr.) and Temple transfer Carrington Jones (6-1,280, So.).
There are a couple of really good safeties in the DSU secondary in the person of preseason All-MEAC seniors selections Jahad Niebauer (5-10,185) and Devin Smith (5-11,190).

Coach Sam Washington made sure that his Aggies made good use of their time off last week – getting healed up from a lot of nagging bumps and bruises, re-adjusting the pass defense, evaluating the progress of the younger players on the roster and taking a critical look internally at some of the coaching moves made by himself and his staff during the first three games of the season.

A&T is coming into tomorrow night’s game with a 2-1 record and are pretty much on schedule as it prepares to defend its MEAC championship for the third straight year. That will not be an easy task to say least but one that the Aggies have been chomping at the bit to get after now that the preliminaries of the non-conference season are over and done with.

Delaware State missed out on a golden chance last week to get an leg up in the league race when they jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead and then fell flat on the their face offensively for the rest of the day in dropping a 24-9 contest to a pedestrian Howard squad.

The Hornets did a nice job against the run against the Bison holding them to just 73 yards rushing but then again Howard has always been a team that never met a forward pass that they didn’t love and the flipside of the stat sheet bears out. The Bison used the short game with great efficiency completing 21-35 passes for 242 yards and two touchdowns accounting for 15 out of the 18 first downs gained.

Delaware State made the conscious decision to move away from last year’s option attack for a traditional spread offense. No question having to insert a true freshman at quarterback so soon when the more experienced starter went down early has slowed the developmental process of the offense. The Hornet attack is a work in progress.

In spite of their youth, they have built cohesion in their approach and Milstead’s players have bought into their system. What the Hornets do have is a very aggressive defense that will take a lot of risk as they blitz on nearly every play – a high risk, high reward strategy similar to what A&T saw in the loss to Morgan State last season.

The Aggie offensive line will need to be able to recognize the extra rusher(s)and if so then there should be some big play opportunities available to A&T’s big playmakers to exploit.

DSU’s coach Rod Milstead stated earlier this week that A&T’s physicality up front and their discipline in their execution and assignments is what concerns him the most.

“We’ll have to match their physicality up front and their strict discipline to have a real chance. They’re good everywhere – up front, at the skill positions, and special teams. They’re just a darn good football team.” he said.

The Hornets certainly have the size to contest down in the trenches. They play extremely hard and they come at you from all angles on defense but the depth drops off considerably after the first 22. On just three days of prep without a normal day off to recoup and after the long 8 hour bus ride from Dover to Greensboro, one has to wonder just how much juice will be left in the tank come halftime on Thursday night.

Expect the young Hornets to come out looking to quickly make a statement so they can set the tone and gain confidence early against the defending champion. Even though the Aggies are without a doubt the superior team, they will need to show patience and play good fundamental football. They can’t get ahead of themselves and start pressing too hard for a quick knockout and uncharacteristically start shooting themselves in the foot.

A&T isn’t planning on doing anything really different from their standard fare of “just doing chicken” but one can’t help shake the feeling from all the interviews this week that Washington and company are perhaps now ready to add in a few new extra spices to the recipe now that real season is about to start.

Just saying.


N.C. A&T – 34

Delaware State – 6