N.C. Central football coach Mose Rison issued his team a challenge after the Eagles went 0-6 in the first “half” of their football schedule.

Win the last five games. There is no Duke, Appalachian State or Liberty capable of whipping the Eagles by a big score left on the schedule.

So far, so good.

NCCU easily disposed of NAIA member Central Methodist two weeks ago, and had no trouble at all last week with Open Date.

On Saturday at 1:30 the Eagles will host Division II Central State of Ohio (1-7) in their annual homecoming game, and NCCU will be a heavy favorite.

Things will get tougher next week as NCCU finished with three Division I (Championship Subdivision) opponents. But if the Eagles aren’t 2-6 coming out of Saturday’s contest against E.J. Junior’s Marauders it would be an unmitigated disaster.

“Sometimes it’s hard when you’re the favorite,” Rison said. “You try as a coaching staff not to let the kids get into a comfortable position where they think the game’s already won. That is the message we’ve been sending out to the kids. They’re 1-7 but at the same time we’re 1-6. We need to get our second wind. We still have a sense of urgency. We’ve set a goal for the last five games to win all five. This game happens to be the second one of those and we want to accomplish that goal.

“At the same time it’s homecoming. Our seniors are going to play their last homecoming game for North Carolina Central University. We like to have our seniors go out the right way. It will be meaningful for those kids because it’s winding down. After this week there’ll be three more games for our seniors to play.”

NCCU might have a little inside knowledge on the thought process of Marauders sophomore quarterback Jeff Brooks, since the Eagles’ junior cornerback Rashad Fox was one of his teammates as Woodrow Wilson High in Washington, D.C.

“I plan to call him and talk a little trash before Saturday about the game,” Fox said of Brooks. “I’m going to try to take advantage of the fact I know him. I’m going to give everybody a few secrets about what he likes to do. But he’s a good athlete. It’s going to be tough. We’ll have to bring our ‘A’ game.”

The Eagles will be wearing pink wristbands and helmet stickers in support of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and will also use pink towels on the sidelines.

N.C. Central (1-6) vs. Central State (1-7)

[1:30 p.m. Saturday, O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium]

Series tied 1-1

Broadcast info

Audio: WRJD-AM 1410, nccueaglepride.com

Key stats …

NCCU: Team scoring 21.1 to opponents’ 30.4. Rushing 84.0 to 187.1. Passing 182.3 to 153.1. Individual leaders – (rush) Tim Shankle 119-456 4 TD, (pass) Michael Johnson 88-158-7-1088 9 TD, (receive) Will Scott 24-374 3 TD, (tackle) Calvin Hillie 42 with 2 int. 1 fum. rec. 1 forced fum.

CSU: Team scoring 13.1 to 30.1. Rushing 73.1 to 185.7. Passing 148.9 to 133.0 Individual leaders – (rush) Joshua Anderson 111-383 7 TD, (pass) Jeff Brooks 81-175-7-946 4 TD, (receive) Jerred Hill 35-602 4 TD, (tackle) Ryan Walker 44 with 2 fum. rec. 2 forced fum.

Best message board tidbit on the game:

At onnidan.com, after y04185 said, “I never thought I would ever see NCCU alumni hoping for a two-game win streak, especially this late in the season when this would be their second win. NCCU football has hit rock bottom. Duke has more wins than NCCU. It must really suck to be the worst college football team in Durham,” True Eagle then said, “1. You can’t get on a three-game win streak until you reach two. 2. Duke is probably the best team in North Carolina, not just Durham.”

NCCU will win if … The Eagles play anywhere near as well as they did the other time they were clear favorites, two weeks ago in a 52-7 win over NAIA power Central Methodist. As Rison said, they were solid in all phases of the game that day even without wideout Will Scott and safety Jeffery Henderson. If Michael Johnson gets time to throw and the defense plays its typical game, it should be a comfortable win.

CSU will win if … NCCU looks at records and divisions and doesn’t take the game seriously, which is very unlikely to happen in front of the big homecoming crowd. The Marauders are going to have to find a way to establish the run, avoid penalties and win both the time of possession and turnover battles. And sophomore quarterback Jeff Brooks has to avoid being intercepted.

Can the Bull City boys prove who the real Central team is? Everything would seem to point in that direction. The teams have not been swimming in the same waters; of the teams on CSU’s schedule only Southern – which beat the Marauders 68-0 – would have much chance of beating anyone on NCCU’s schedule so far except for Central Methodist. They Marauders lost to a decent Virginia Union team 45-0 at home and this writer thinks the Eagles are probably better than the Panthers.

Players to watch …

NCCU: #11 LB Donald Laster, #15 QB Michael Johnson, #50 DL Teryl White, #83 WR Will Scott.

CSU: #2 WR Jerred Hill, #8 RB Joshua Anderson, #13 QB Jeff Brooks, #24 DB Mychal Davis.

Injury report …

NCCU: No significant injuries.

CSU: None reported.

Vegas line: Yeah, right. Dunkel doesn’t have anything either. Nor Sagarin.

Score prediction: NCCU 41, Central State 14.