By Tolly Carr
Winston-Salem State entered Saturday’s season-finale against Fayetteville State one game away from its fourth CIAA Southern Division title in four seasons. WSSU started slow, but came away with a 17-7 win and a spot in the CIAA Championship Game.
The win sets up a rematch of the game that never happened. WSSU vs Va. State, last year’s CIAA championship game that was cancelled after an altercation involving former Virginia State running back Lamont Britt and WSSU quarterback Rudy Johnson in the days leading up to the game.
Fayetteville State (6-7, 5-2) knew it needed to keep WSSU (9-1,7-0) off schedule to provide themselves an opportunity for the upset. It went that way early as the only thing WSSU did consistently in the first half was draw penalty flags. Coming off a 61 point outburst last week against Shaw, WSSU marched backwards the entire first half. It drew six offensive penalties over the first two quarters, wiping several first down gains and a touchdown off the board.
“Gets you in trouble every time,” WSSU coach Kienus Boulware said. “The team with the fewest mistakes is going to win. The first half couldn’t get any closer than it did, penalty aided or not.”
The Broncos outperformed the Rams on special teams as well when Michael Johnson scored on an 87 yard punt return with 3:36 to go in the first quarter. Neither team would score in the second quarter as the Broncos went into the locker room leading by seven while the Rams were struggling to get into a rhythm.
The WSSU faithful came expecting to see an offensive arsenal but what they got instead was a defensive showcase. With the offense still sputtering in the third, a forced fumble recovered by James Hickman gave WSSU excellent field position at the FSU 30 yard line. Nine plays later Phil Sims connected with Eric Williams for the twelve yard score to tie it at seven apiece.
After forcing a punt on the ensuing series the Ram offense found some consistency and put together their best drive of the day. Switching between Rudy Johnson and Phil Sims at quarterback throughout the drive, WSSU ended the third quarter ticking off 84 yards on 12 plays, culminating with a Tyree Massey 15 yard score to go up 14-7.
In the fourth quarter it became clear that the Bronco offense couldn’t find any holes in the Ram defense.
After another FSU punt the WSSU chewed up nearly seven minutes in the fourth quarter on a 14 yard drive that ended with an Alajandr Suarez 23 yard field goal that put the Rams up 17-7. Fayetteville State had six minutes left to try and make up the ten points but never got the ball back after failing to convert a fourth and one with three minutes to go at the WSSU 32 yard line.
The Ram defense held the Broncos to just 162 yards while the WSSU offense picked up 420 yards of offense. The Ram attack was fairly balanced with 207 yards rushing and 213 yards passing.
The Rams are riding a 32 game conference winning streak into the CIAA title game against Virginia State, winning the Southern Division for the fourth year in a row. Virginia State is 8-2 overall and 7-0 in the conference after beating Virginia Union to claim the Northern Division.