|Delaware State outgained North Carolina Central 356 to 230 on Saturday, but NCCU came away with a 23-20 win in double-overtime.|
Saturday’s matchup between North Carolina Central and Delaware State was about as even a matchup as there is in college football. Both teams entered the game with identical records. They were tied at halftime, the end of regulation, and the first overtime. Eventually, something had to give.
After Nick Elko’s 56th pass attempt fell incomplete, DSU head coach Kermit Blount sent kicker Mitchell Ward out for a 46 yard field goal attempt to try and push the game into a third overtime. Ward had already missed two field goals, including a potential game-winner near the end of regulation. Still, NCCU head coach Henry Frazier was too nervous to even watch Ward’s kick.
“Arthur Goforth and myself, we were on one knee, praying,” an elated Frazier said after the game. “I had my back to the play, then I peeked up at the screen and saw all these people coming this way so I had to get up and run.”
Those people were NCCU players and students running onto the field after Malk Cromartie blocked Ward’s field goal, giving NCCU a 23-20 victory and solidifying its first winning season as a Division I program. It also gave NCCU (6-3) sole possession of second place in the MEAC.
Though both teams had their share of self inflicted wounds —turnovers for NCCU and missed field goals for DSU, it was largely a well-played game from start to finish.
Looking at the stat sheet, it appears that NCCU struggled to contain DSU’s pass heavy offense. DSU more than doubled NCCU’s passing yardage and held the Eagles to just 92 yards on the ground. They also forced four turnovers– three interceptions and one fumble.
The Eagles, however, definitely held the edge on special teams, as they made several plays that made things easier on their offense. Midway through the second quarter, Travis Tarpley fumbled the ball at his own 28 yard line and the Eagles recovered it. Six plays later, the Eagles capitalized when Jordan Reid connected with Jonathan Nicely for a three yard touchdown pass, giving them a 10-7 lead with 7:49 remaining. The Hornets would answer on the next drive with a 14 play, 94 yard drive to tie the game at 10 heading into halftime.
Before Cromartie’s big play, Goforth was the game’s biggest hero as he ran around and through the Hornet’s punt team for an electrifying 92 yard punt return. The return broke the school record for longest punt return, but more importantly, gave NCCU a 17-10 lead in the third quarter.
“I have faith in my blockers,” Goforth said. “They sacrificed themselves and made it possible for me to make that play.”
A one yard run late in the third quarter by DSU’s Malcolm Williams was the last score of regulation. The two teams traded field goals in the first overtime and NCCU’s Oleg Parent connected on his third field goal of the game in the second overtime, forcing Ward’s ill-fated attempt.
As a redshirt senior who has been with the program through it’s ups and downs during NCCU’s Division I transition, Cromartie played well from start to finish. He led the team with 12 tackles, but he will always be remembered as a homecoming hero in what was a game he is sure never to forget.
“Coach Frazier is always talking about making big plays,” Cromartie said. “As a senior I had to step up and make a big play for my team.”
This was one of the best HBCU games I’ve seen in quite a while. With the teams fighting for second place behind Bethune-Cookman, both teams were playing to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.
NCCU has already lost to BCU, and it’s no secret they will need a slip up from them to make the FCS playoffs. And as much as coaches and players may say otherwise, they will have one eye on them for the rest of the season. In fact, as soon as Frazier’s interviews were over, he asked one of his assistants what the score of the BCU-Morgan State game was. Morgan won, 24-13.
However the rest of the season plays out, NCCU has to view this season as a success. After winning just two games last year and being picked to finish in the bottom third of the conference in 2012, they’ve shown that they belong in the MEAC as much as anyone does.