FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. – With the final seconds ticking off the clock, Shaw University’s Darnell Evans strode down the sideline, slapping hands with each of his teammates, tears in his eyes. Seconds before, Evans had picked off his third pass of the afternoon and returned it for a touchdown to cement a Shaw comeback, giving the Bears a 44-34 win over Fayetteville State Saturday at Jeralds Stadium.
Decked out in pink tape and wristbands in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Evans explained his emotion. “October’s always a big month for me. My aunt passed away from breast cancer, so this month is really means a lot to me.”
It was a big day for both Evans and Shaw. Shaw fell behind early, trailing 17-0 with less than three minutes gone in the second quarter after Jemeryn Jenkins hit Kasunn Williams for a 76-yard touchdown pass.
The Bears, who improve to 3-3 on the season and pick up their first win – against two losses – in the CIAA, trailed 31-12 with 11:37 left in the third quarter, but outscored the Broncos 32-3 to close out the game – propelled in large part by Evans’ play.
Evans amassed 293 total yards on kickoff, punt and interception returns. The Bears had 183 yards rushing and 167 through the air. Evans broke up six passes.
After allowing FSU to take a 31-12 lead, the Shaw defense shut down allowed FSU only two long drives — one which resulted in a field goal, and one that closed out the game without a score.
“We’ve been in games in the second half and haven’t had much offense,” said Shaw head coach Robert Massey. “That was our goal – to be a lot more effective offensively. We wanted to stay away from the stupid penalties. We had a few, but in the end of the day we did what we needed to do.”
After a 47-yard kickoff return by Evans on the ensuing kick, Shaw started at midfield and Odom and Marquise Grizzle combined to move the Bears to the goal line, with Grizzle powering over the line for a one-yard touchdown run. The PAT was missed, leaving the Bears trailing 31-18.
On the third play of the next FSU drive, Jenkins put up a ball that Evans pulled down and returned for 18 yards, giving Shaw another short field. Marquise Grizzle then carried the ball five times in the drive for a total of 42 yards, but it was Odom who covered the last yard into the end zone to trim the FSU lead to 31-25.
Shaw’s defense drove Fayetteville State backwards on the Broncos’ next possession, then Shaw’s Evan Strange blocked the punt, driving it through the end zone for a safety, narrowing the margin even further as the score now stood at 31-27 Fayetteville State.
On the ensuing free kick, Evans found a seam and broke open a 66-yard return, ending at the FSU nine-yard line. The Shaw offense stalled, but Andres Magallon came in and knocked the field goal through, trimming the FSU lead to one at 31-30 with 23 seconds left in the third quarter.
As the fourth quarter opened and with Shaw near the goal line, the Shaw kicking game again failed as Magallon sent the field goal attempt wide, leaving the score at 31-30 in favor of the Broncos.
The Broncos then responded with their longest drive of the game, covering 62 yards in 14 plays. But as Fayetteville State approached the Shaw goal line, the Bear defense stiffened and FSU was forced to take the Antonio Mayo field goal to extend their lead to 34-30.
Evans came up with another big play, a 68-yard return of the ensuing kickoff put the Bears deep in Bronco territory. Grizzle and Odom rushed their way through the 22 yards with Odom hitting a nine-yard run into the end zone to give the Bears their first lead of the game: 37-34.
The Shaw defense forced FSU to a three-and-out on their next possession, but the Shaw offense fizzled after 20 yards and punted back to Fayetteville.
On the third play of the FSU drive, Evans again read the route and picked off a Derek Bryant pass, this time returning it 27 yards for a touchdown.
“It was a blatant pass play,” said Evans. “The defensive line pinned their ears back. They did a great job getting that pressure. It just makes it a field day for us DBs. I saw the quarterback open up and read his eyes – I’m not supposed to, I’m supposed to be on man, but I just made the play.”
The TD gave the Bears a 44-34 lead with 1:01 left in the game.
Grizzle finished the game with 134 yards on 28 carries. Odom finished 20 for 42 for 167 yards with three interceptions. Kitchens was the leading receiver with six receptions for 66 yards.
Evans finished with one solo tackle and 293 all-purpose yards. The three interceptions give him seven on the season.
For Fayetteville State, Jenkins finished with 303 yards on a 14 for 36 performance. He had two touchdowns. Colon B ailey and Jenkins were the leading rushers with 37 and 35 yards, respectively. Williams finished with three receptions for 128 yards and two touchdowns.