Kris Ferguson

CIAA Week 10: It's Rivalry Week!

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I have a lot to talk about. Like, a lot of items. Because a lot happened.

1. What team is the noteworthy team of the week?

Avid readers of this blog know that I like to start off by highlighting a team that had a noteworthy week. I’ve talked a lot about the CIAA North in particular. This week is different, because I get to finally cash in another dark horse candidate. Yes, today I’m going to talk about the program that has been in hibernation for some years. Of course I am using that pun to talk about Shaw!
The Shaw Bears have quietly worked under the radar given the flashy play of the North and the complete dismantling that Fayetteville State has been putting on. The Bears sit at 4-4 after last week’s win over Winston-Salem State in my game of the week. What was particularly amazing to watch was how they allowed the Rams to climb back into the game with a one point lead, only to calmly run their offense down the field for another touchdown on the next drive. The most damaging play wasn’t that drive; instead, it was the 80+ yard pick six by Kevin Sherman at the END OF THE FIRST HALF. This was truly a team effort, starting with WR Marquis Gorham exceeding 100 yards receiving and The Human GPS LB Devon Hunt notching 15 tackles. Keep in mind that Shaw was one of the few teams who had a true out of conference victory (against Mars Hill), and that is boding well for the continued rebuilding that this program has been undergoing. Don’t poke the bear, because a sleepy bear who wakes up isn’t a happy one. I’ll predict that Shaw will end up with a non-losing record for the first time since 2013.

2. What are the playoffs looking like

Man look. Its my obligation to talk about things you may not want to hear. Bowie State was sitting at the 5th seed and Virginia Union was sitting at the 8th seed in the first regional ranking released last week. Monday’s release has Bowie State moving into the 4th seed (applause) and Virginia Union seeded…well…*crickets*. That’s right, VUU FELL OUT OF THE RANKINGS! Wait, what? Cue the expletives. But they won last week! Are you kidding me?

Rational explanations for this phenomenon boil down to the following: Carson-Newman, who beat VUU by four in week two, also lost last week. That dragged VUU down. This is the plus to say that Out of Conference games matter, people. I say it every year. Also, VUU played a one-win Elizabeth City State, lowering its strength of schedule. So, now we have a two-loss VUU not even in the top 10 while all kind of three-loss Gulf South Conference and SIAC schools are ranked. Blah. It is now likely that VUU will play Johnson C Smith in week 11 to make up for the week three game, but I’m not convinced that playing a two or three win JCSU will help much.

I didn’t forget about you, Fayetteville State. The Broncos moved up to 10th in the region. Kudos to the fast progress the Broncos have made in the last two years under Richard Hayes. There’s just one problem: one-loss FSU finds itself behind three-loss Wingate by virtue of the head to head loss in week two. Another case of not winning out of conference games.
Nonetheless, the lack of an 11 game schedule really hurts the conference. Madame Commissioner, I’m pleading with you. Stop letting the conference be handicapped with a 10 game schedule!

3. Superlatives:

Traditionally, next week should be the release of the all-conference team. Naturally, there is probably going to be some outrage, but one can hope that the conference can honor our most productive athletes in the proper manner. Here are my thoughts on superlatives:

Offensive Player of the Year: The favorite here has not changed from the prior two years. You know his name. He goes by Amir Hall. Hall remains the country’s leader in passing yards per game and overall passing yards. He continues to perform at a high level despite different offensive philosophy this year. Hall should yet again be a Harlon Hill finalist, though it seems like the voters for the award are focused on regular AND postseason performance for the trophy. That really puts the focus on Bowie State to at least get out of the first round this year. Option 1A is VUU’s RB Tabyus Taylor, who is also one of the country’s most productive backs. Taylor is third in all-purpose yards in the country and BARELY second in the country in individual scoring at 15 points a game. That means Tabyus outscores Lincoln and Elizabeth City State by himself. The dark horse is Chowan’s QB Bryce Witt, who is right on Hall’s heels. Witt is 4th in the country in total offense and actually leads the conference’s QBs for points responsible for.

Defensive Player of the Year: This one will depend on what is most important to the voters. With a game left to play, I think there is a slight nod to WSSU’s Free Safety Daryus Skinner. Skinner has had a big impact on WSSU’s defense and is a big reason why WSSU allows the fewest points in conference. His nine interceptions lead the country and several of those interceptions have came at critical moments such as in the end zone to stop scoring plays. There’s a big case to be made for Shaw’s LB Devon Hunt. Hunt became the school’s all-time tackling leader as just a Junior who has played three seasons. Hunt is so consistent that you have to respect his body of work this year. Now, if you want to lean on sacks then you’re leaning on FSU’s DL Keyshawn James. James has bolstered a defensive line in the best way possible for a Broncos defense that needed uplifting from last year. James has played a major role in the Broncos only allowing the second fewest points of any team in the conference.

Special Teams Player of the Year: This award is likely to go to VUU K Jefferson Souza this year. Souza’s .800 field goal average is 10th in the country and he is very consistent in field goal attempts too. The runners up are the trio of FSU Broncos: K David Lamb, who is second to Souza in field goal attempt average, PR Tyeous Sharpe, and KR Brandon Smith, both of whom have two TDs in the return game apiece.

Rookie of the year: On offense, I like Miles Hayes of Livingstone, who has injected some life into the offense. Hayes is one the conference’s better passers as a true freshman. On defense, I suspect that Bowie State's DL Joshua Pryor and Saint Augustine’s LB Joseph Harris Jr will be one-two on the list. Harris paces the crowd with 53 tackles on the season; however, Pryor has 46 tackles, leads the conference with 8.5 sacks, and is second in sacks per game. Chowan DB Connor O’Brien is next with 36 tackles, followed by VUU DB Elijah Johnson. WSSU’s Ta’Shaun Taylor and VSU’s Rashard Jones.

Biggest Surprise: Was anyone expecting Chowan to light up the scoreboard the way they did? I know the coaching staff loves the pass game, but the maturation of Bryce Witt this fast wasn’t expected. Chowan is 4-4, but 4-2 in D2 play with a marquee win over Bowie State. This will be a scary team next year. Also, I wasn’t expecting FSU’s defense to be this much improved over last year. The broncos give up less than 20 points a game too, and that includes their 27 points surrendered against Wingate in their only loss. Well done.

Most Overrated: WSSU, by far. I mean, this is a team that has crashed and burned from being a playoff team two years ago with largely the same pieces. There’s good chance this team ends up with more losses than wins for the first time as a D2 team since 2004. A lot of the issue rests on the offense, which seems so unproductive at critical moments this year. That’s with a defense that only gives up 16 points a game. What more do you want from your defense? Jeez. Saint Augustine’s really took a nosedive this year too, and that hurts with their team reaching .500 last year. A lot seems to hinge of starting QB DJ Johnson getting hurt early and turning the reigns to true freshman John Darby. Darby performed rather admirably, but has struggled as of late.

This week’s games

Week 10 is officially designated as rivalry week. There is a lot to discuss here as some teams finish their seasons this week, some will play next week, and two will advance to the championship game.

Game of the week: Virginia State at Virginia Union

VSU succumbed in a 45-38 shootout with Chowan last week. Cordelral Cook scored five touchdowns (three in the air, two on the ground), but also committed three turnovers. VUU left ECSU scoreless while notching 53 points themselves. The offense was led by who else but Tabyus Taylor’s 231 yards rushing. So disrespectful. This game is the game of the week because of the implications for VUU. Last year, VUU needed to win this game just to have a shot at the conference title. While technically this is the case (more on that later), VUU also needs this game to climb back into the regional rankings for playoff seeding. A win here can go a long way towards that goal. Cordelral Cook can only be slowed down, and I expect VUU to do that in this heated rivalry.

Games of interest

ECSU at Bowie State

So Bowie State has to win this game in order to clinch the Northern Division title. ECSU officially has the title of the team in the CIAA basement this year, as this is really a team in transition. Not really much to say other than uh oh. Look for Bowie State to air it out all over the Vikings to secure the Northern Division crown. This should be the game in which Amir Hall passes former WSSU QB and current Saint Augustine's Offensive Coordinator Kameron Smith as the conference's all-time passing touchdown leader. What better place to do- at home!

Winston-Salem State at Fayetteville State

This is a meaningless game when it comes to championship aspirations. WSSU’s loss to Shaw put FSU at a two-game advantage with one game to play. That means FSU has already secured the Southern division crown. WSSU hopes to avoid a losing season while FSU is playing for their playoff lives. All kinds of interest here. This game has the two stingiest defenses in the conference, and two great running backs in Kerrion Moore and Stevie Green. The difference is FSU’s offensive balance, and that will lead the Broncos to victory.

The Rest

Shaw at Saint Augustine’s

Shaw should be able to blow past their heated rival in the Raleigh Classic. Saint Augustine’s just isn’t the team it was last year. Btw, Shaw also plays next week, but I will save that conversation for…next week. Key players to watch are Marquis Gorham, Dorrel McClain, Devon Hunt and Jaleel Scroggins for Shaw, and Jeremiah Miller, Joseph Harris, Brandon Jackson, and Roy Garris, Jr for Saint Augustine’s.

Livingstone at Johnson C Smith

Two weeks ago, I would have been on the Blue Bear train to win The Commemorative Classic. But the absence of QB Miles Hayes and WR Everett Ransom to injury and 2nd string QB to Alexis Archie for reasons I don’t know, has left me leaning to the Golden Bulls. While the defenses are about even, the Golden Bulls just have the edge in the pass game now with Antonio Wallace getting more experience and showing flashes of high productivity in the pass game.

Lincoln at Chowan

Welp, its Chowan’s turn at the Lions. The stunning stat is that this game features the conference’s two worst defenses. Chowan gives up 419 yards and Lincoln surrenders 434 yards. There’s just a problem here: Chowan also racks up 490 yards while Lincoln is last at 197 yards. Two things to look out for: 1. The Lincoln scoring counter sits at 6.9 points. The Lions need 19 points to tie Missouri Southern State, and 33 points to tie Minnesota-Crookston. You can do it, Lions! Secondly, it will be interesting to see how Chowan’s offense attacks the Lions through the air or through the ground. The Hawks have a lot of weapons, but the Lions have found ways to make things interesting (just ask Bowie State).

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Updated 11-02-2018 at 10:22 AM by Kris Ferguson