2023 Football

WSSU petitions CIAA over ‘dirty plays,’ ECSU coach denies it

The WSSU coach submitted six plays, including one that led to injury, he says were dirty. ECSU’s coach vehemently denies that claim.

The CIAA opener for Elizabeth City State (ECSU) and Winston-Salem State (WSSU) was a game that had plenty of intensity from start to finish.

WSSU won the game 24-7, but it more than 48 hours later it was stinging from the loss of one of its top defenders after what its head coach felt was a dirty play.

Defensive lineman Trevor Willard suffered a knee injury in the game’s second quarter after dominating the Elizabeth City State offensive line. His head coach, Robert Massey, stated on Tuesday that he felt it was a dirty hit. 

“The kid (tight end Ethan Nowlin) celebrates and we have it on video and we can hear the kid say ‘I told you I’d get him coach,’” Massey said via John Dell of the Winston-Salem Journal. “Then he pointed to Trevor and celebrated some more…. That’s unacceptable.”

Winston-Salem State athletics medical staff works on defensive lineman Trevor Willard following an injury.

Willard was down for several minutes and had to be carted off the field. He eventually returned to the sideline wearing an air cast, but he’s likely to miss at least a month, according to Massey. 

“In the 2000’s you learned to block near the thigh but not below the knee,” Massey said. “I just hate it for Trevor because he might miss the rest of the season if the MRI is bad.”

Massey said he sent a total of six plays to the league for review.

HBCU Gameday reached out to Elizabeth City State head coach Marcus Hilliard who said he was unaware of anything being submitted to the CIAA about his team being ‘dirty.’

“We haven’t had any word from the CI (AA) because it wasn’t anything dirty with those blocks.

Hilliard contends that the Willard injury, specifically, was not a dirty play. 

“I mean, it’s unfortunate. You know, it’s football,” Hilliard said of the injury. “Things happen and I’m praying for the young man and his recovery and hopefully he’s not out for the rest of the season. But, you know it was unfortunate, his leg got caught. I’m not sure the other five plays, but we definitely got plays, too that could be questionable.”

Hilliard didn’t deny that Nowlin celebrated after the ill-fated play, and stated that he was immediately reprimanded by the ECSU, though he did eventually return to the game. 

“We took him out of series, but we reprimanded him on the spot and then once I saw it on film, you know, that got dealt with,” Hilliard said. “It was not a dirty play. The celebration is what I harped on to let them guys know we don’t do that here at Elizabeth City.”


The two teams combined for a total of 10 unsportsmanlike penalties and WSSU’s Elijah Williams was ejected for throwing a punch later in the game. WSSU and ECSU did not shake hands after the game.

“That was an emotional game, and we just felt like emotions were running high,” Hilliard said. “So we didn’t want any further interaction with the guys to go on. So we just felt like it was best for me and Massey to shake hands and we go about our way.”

That may have been the end of it on Saturday night, but clearly, Massey wants a closer look at the game. The ball is now in the CIAA’s court. 

WSSU petitions CIAA over ‘dirty plays,’ ECSU coach denies it
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