|Winston-Salem State has 32 sacks in nine games this season. (Garrett Garms/WSSU Photo)|
Fayetteville State (6-3, 5-1) @ Winston-Salem State (8-1, 6-0)
When this season began, this matchup appeared to be little more than a warmup for Winston-Salem State on the road to the CIAA Championship Game. Well as it turns out, this game will decide who represents the CIAA South in the championship game against Virginia State next week. Fayetteville enters the game with a 5-1 record in the CIAA, as its early season loss to VSU did not count in the standings. WSSU enters the game a perfect 6-0 in the conference, but a loss to Fayetteville State will give both teams the same conference record, with FSU taking the head-to-head matchup.
|Lawerence Kershaw has led Fayetteville State to a 6-3 record in his first season as head coach. (Fayetteville Observer photo)|
Key Matchup: Maynor vs. Kershaw
One of the more interesting matchups in this game won’t happen on the field, it will be on the sidelines. WSSU’s Connell Maynor is the veteran in this matchup, coming in with just five losses in four seasons. FSU’s Kershaw is a rookie head coach that has led a big FSU turnaround, helping the team more than double its number of wins in his first season. Both Maynor and Kershaw are offensive coordinators-turned-head coaches, and it shows as WSSU (41.8 ppg) and FSU (31.3) ppg, rank in the upper half of the CIAA in points per game.
//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js Prediction: WSSU over FSU
Out of all the stories in the CIAA this season, Fayetteville State’s turnaround has probably been the least talked about. But Kershaw has done arguably as good of a job for the Broncos as Latrell Scott has done for the Trojans. He has injected life into a football team that was merely existing last season, and that’s not an easy thing to do in just one season. Just getting his team to the point where they could possibly play in the CIAA Championship Game is a major accomplishment.
And make no mistake about it, all of the pressure is on WSSU. They were expected to breeze through the CIAA again after winning the last two titles, and for the most part they have. The last few weeks have made some fans and supporters uneasy as the Rams have had first-half struggles against teams like Livingstone and Johnson C. Smith and nearly lost to Shaw last week.
Both these teams can score, as evidenced by their numbers so far this season. Winston-Salem State has one of, if not the top defensive units in the Division II level. Fayetteville State is statistically a middle-of-the pack CIAA defense, but they are opportunistic, as they are tied for the conference lead with 30 turnovers. If WSSU doesn’t turn the ball over, they should win this game. Quarterback Rudy Johnson has thrown just four interceptions for WSSU, but two of those were last week. If Fayetteville State can force multiple turnovers, they have a chance. If WSSU takes care of the ball and plays four complete quarters, they’ll be playing in the championship game next week at home.