There weren’t a lot of surprises in last week’s Big South action as teams are winding down the season and are either trying to play their way into the FCS playoffs or finish 2021 with a winning record going into next season.
Kennesaw State (8-1, 5-0) has pretty much already nailed down a top playoff seed as they rose to #5 in the national rankings this week after a convincing 45-21 road win over Robert Morris (3-5, 2-4). Sophomore
Quarterback Xavier Shepherd had another stellar with a very efficient passing performance going 8-for-12 for 185 yards and four touchdowns.
Monmouth stayed pace with the Owls as one of two unbeaten teams in conference play after fighting off pesky North Alabama (2-7, 1-3) 45-33.
Grad student Owen Wright and freshman running back Jaden Shirden stepped in for the injured all-American Juwon Farri and had a coming out party. The duo combined to rush for 176 yards on 33 carries for 5.5 yard average.
The Hawks (6-3, 5-0) now just need to take care of business next Saturday at home against Robert Morris (3-5, 2-4) to set up a winner take all de facto Big South championship game against rival Kennesaw State. The winner of that game receives an automatic bid to the NCAA FCS playoffs.
North Carolina A&T broke an uncharacteristic 3-game losing streak with a big 21-18 road win over Charleston Southern in brutal weather conditions. The victory kept A&T in third place in the league by a game with one conference contest remaining against Gardner-Webb.
The Aggies (4-5, 3-3) nabbed the victory behind one of its better defensive efforts of the year posting a school record 11 sacks against the Big South’s most prolific pass offense. The Buccaneers (3-5, 2-4) mustered only 147 yards of total offense and had minus-3 yards rushing on the day.
No. #3 ranked James Madison showed little if any mercy in their 51-14 bludgeoning of slumping Campbell (3-6, 2-3) in a non conference affair in Harrisonburg, Va.
Campbell controlled time of possession 32-28 minutes but had little to show for it as the Camels coughed up three fumbles all of which led to easy JMU scoring drives on short fields. Dukes quarterback Cole Johnson was on target all day throwing for 259 yards and 4 TDs, all of which went to wide receiver Kris Thornton who finished with 8 catches for 142 yards.
Hampton (4-5, 2-3) and Gardner Webb (3-6, 1-4) battled to a 21-21 draw for 60 minutes of regulation play.
But it wasn’t until after a initial defensive stop in overtime by the Hampton defense that star running back Keyondre White broke through on the Pirates’ first play of their possession on a 25-yard scamper to the end zone to seal the 27-21 victory.
Hampton senior quarterback Jett Duffey continued his hot streak under center going for 12-of-18 for 231 yards and three touchdowns.
This week’s slate of games will see North Carolina A&T travel to the state of South Carolina for a second consecutive week. they take on their former conference foe always an old-time nemesis in South Carolina State (MEAC) in what should be this weekend’s best match-up at 1:30 p.m.
Monmouth will start off the day at noon when it entertains Robert Morris.
Hampton will do battle at Campbell an hour later down in Buies Creek, NC at 1 p.m.
Charleston Southern takes a long bus ride to Boiling Springs, NC to test Gardner Webb at 1:30.
Kennesaw State will try to move its win streak to 7 straight as they tangle with North Alabama at 3 p.m.
Big South Football TV Schedule – Saturday, Nov. 13
Robert Morris at Monmouth – 12pm, ESPN+
Hampton at Campbell – 1pm, ESPN+/Nexstar
Charleston Southern at Gardner-Webb – 1:30pm, ESPN3
North Carolina A&T at South Carolina State – 1:30pm, ESPN+
Kennesaw State at North Alabama – 3pm, ESPN+
Coach Oliver “Buddy” Pough is a week away from a chance at claiming his seventh Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference football championship and a trip to Atlanta in late December to what would be the Bulldog’s first ever trip to Celebration Bowl.
In his 19 seasons as the head Bulldog, Pough is now within spitting distance of surpassing the legendary Willie Jeffries as SCSU’s all time winningest coach sometime early next season as he stands just four short of that historical mark entering Saturday’s contest against N.C. A&T.
The Bulldogs are 5-4 overall but are unbeaten in conference play (4-0) and a combination of either a Norfolk State loss this weekend at Delaware State or a SCSU win in two weeks in a head-to-head showdown with NSU will lock up the title.
S.C. State has had somewhat of a Jekyll-Hyde complex with their offense in recent weeks after coming out of the blocks in opening weeks racking up yardage and points like crazy in their first 4 games (121 pts., 1,357 total offense yds).
Since then, the ‘Dogs, over their last 5 games, have managed just
99 points and 1,142 total offense yds.) Much of the fall off can be traced directly to playing more familiar opponents in the second part of the season who know them very well but some can be traced to inconsistent play especially in the passing game.
Big things were expected from red-shirt sophomore quarterback Corey Fields but unlike his freshman year in 2019, Fields has been not nearly as formidable hitting on 142-280 attempts for 1,841 yards and 11 TDS but also a whopping 11 interceptions.
Shaquan Davis (6-5, 180, So.) is a serious deep threat and leads the receiving corps with 532 yards and 2 TDs. However, Will Vereen (5-10, 200) has the most receptions with 38 catches for 521 yards and 3 scores.
The ground game is centered around red-shirt freshman Kendrell Flowers (5-11,214) and senior Alex James ( 5-11,200). Clearing the way for them will be the usual big, physical offensive line that has always been a trademark of Buddy Pough’s teams.
The tackles will be manned by Tison Gray (6-4,300) and Chris Simon (6-5,280), guards Nick Taiste (6-1,295) and Jalen Paige (6-2,285) and center Eric Brown (6-3,336).
Defensively, the Bulldogs have rebuilt their defensive front from their 2019 campaign. SCSU uses a 4-3 look with two freshman Dajon Funderburk (6-2,268), Nate Wilcox (6-1,242), Jared Kirksey (6-2,269) and one junior Darnell Brown (6-2,265).
The linebackers will be Chad Gilchrist (6-2,220), BJ Davis (6-2,189), and Chris Simmons (6-0,205).
The real strength of the SCSU defense is their experienced secondary and it is lead by NFL pro prospect cornerback Decobie Durant (5-11,175, Jr., 4.4) and another potential draft pick Zafir Kelly (6-1,170, Sr.)
The safeties are no slouches in their own right. Strong safety Duane Nichols (6-0,210, R-Jr.) and Jalen Barr (6-0,180, R-So.) have been starters ever since they stepped foot on campus three years ago.
N.C. A&T and South Carolina State may not be in the same conference anymore but that doesn’t mean that the competitive rivalry between these two successful programs on the football field will be any less intense this Saturday.
The beginning of the series dates back to 1924 which makes it one of the two longest rivalries on record for the Aggies, the other being with N.C. Central which began that same year.
SCSU leads in the series 32-22-2 thanks in large part to the sub par period of A&T football in the decade of the early 2000s. However since 2012, A&T has gone 6-2 against the Bulldogs including five straight wins.
Even though A&T and SCSU are no longer both members of the MEAC, plans are already underway to keep the rivalry going as much as possible with the negotiating of future non-conference schedule dates. Long term agreements have already been made with both NCCU (10yr) and Norfolk State (4yr).
As far as South Carolina State is concerned, the 2021 season has been a lesson in perseverance. After dropping 4 of the their first five ball games, the Bulldogs have strung together 4 straight rather “ugly” wins to put themselves in prime position to win their way into their first ever Celebration Bowl invite as the MEAC Champion.
Those wins have not been a thing of beauty to watch. Other than a homecoming blowout of Morgan State, style points have been in very short supply especially in wins over Delaware State (13-7), NCCU (27-24), and Howard (15-12). Offensive inconsistency has plagued SCSU but a few things have remained constant and has been the catalyst for the mid season turnaround.
The young SCSU defensive front has jelled in recent weeks holding opponents on average to just under 65 yards rushing in their last four games. The other main area that has been a key reason for the turnaround has been the play of their special teams.
SCSU has always been very adept at changing the momentum of a close game with big blocked punts or timely long returns. Juwan Moody (5-10,160, So.) has been pivotal all season long averaging a healthy 17 yards on punt returns.
A&T’s defense was on point a week ago and had it not been for two unforced offensive turnovers creating short fields, Charleston Southern probably would not have sniffed the end zone at all.
The key this week will be who will be more focused as the season’s end is in sight. This is “the” really crucial game if A&T is to salvage not only their season but regain some of their swag in seeking to end the year with a winning record and a disappointing but still decent showing in their first year in the Big South.
Will the Bulldogs come into this game with their customary zeal for an A&T-SCSU game or will a possible championship meeting next week with Norfolk State lurking in the back of their mind to more center stage.
Expect a mixed bag for both but maybe, just maybe some of those team meetings among the players in recent weeks and winning their first road game of the year last week awakened some folks on the inside and opened the eyes of a few others along the sideline.
Let’s hope so.
N.C. A&T – 31
S.C. STATE – 27