N.C. Central has been on the road for the first two weeks of the season, paying the kind of dues administrators knew Eagle athletes were going to have to pay when they committed to the Division I jump three seasons ago.
Now they’ll finally be home Saturday against Morehead State, in a guarantee game against a team that is decent at the Division I level that doesn’t allow football scholarships.
NCCU will be playing on a brand new Mondoturf surface, there’s a new “E-Town” fan fest area right outside the stadium, the Sound Machine band will be rocking in close quarters, and Mose Rison’s club should be a clear favorite.
After a trip to Hampton, a 31-24 loss in which the Eagles were slight underdogs but almost pulled off the upset, and another to Liberty, a 35-10 loss in which the Eagles were huge underdogs but stayed competitive until the fourth period, NCCU is glad not to be up against a monster this time.
But it’s not quite a “mail-it-in” victory.
“It will be a lot more comfortable setting because we’re at home,” Rison said. “This season has an opportunity to be a very fun season for all of us.
“I know Morehead State – I had some experience against them when I was (an assistant coach in 2005) at Davidson. They have a sound football program. The kids will be well-coached and play hard. We’ve just got to go out and play with some emotion.”
Junior free safety Jeffery Henderson (pictured) said he thinks the NCCU defense is steadily getting better.
“We’ve learned we’re a good team and we can compete with the best competition in I-AA,” Henderson said. “The defense has been together for three years. We’ve got to stick together and not give up.
“Morehead State runs the wing-T triple option, and that will definitely be something to look forward to. With the wing-T it’s definitely more concentration. It comes down to trickery.”
Quarterback Michael Johnson said the NCCU offense is coming together pretty well.
“I think in terms of last year, we’re way beyond what we were last year,” Johnson said. “We’re not exactly there yet, but we’re on our way. I’m going to be preaching to guys about finishing out games.
“We’re extremely excited (about the turf). It’s a big step for NCCU football overall. That’s going to spark a little fire under us.”
N.C. Central (0-2) vs. Morehead State (1-1)
Saturday, 1:30 p.m., O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium
Key stats …
NCCU: Team scoring 17.0 to opponents’ 33.0 avg. Rushing 97.5 to 158.5. Passing 151.0 to 118.5. Individual leaders – (rush) Tim Shankle 36-139 0 TD, (pass) Michael Johnson 26-43-3-244 3 TD, (receive) Will Scott 9-80 2 TD, (tackle) Donald Laster 17, 1 FF, 1 FR.
Morehead State: Team scoring 30.5 to 20.5. Rushing 133.5 to 29.0. Passing 187.5 to 146.5. Individual leaders – (rush) Desmond Cox 13-81 1 TD, (pass) Evan Sawyer 21-42-2-224 1 TD, (receive) Ronnie McDermott 6-76 0 TD, (tackle) Josh Ballard 12.
Best message board tidbit on the game:
Eagle Pride on www.onnidan.com: “We need to take care of Morehead State in a big way. Our fans need to show up in their maroon and gray. We have over 50 people from our church that will be attending this game and Eagle Town. Let’s go Eagles (that’s NCCU Eagles)!”
NCCU will win if: The Eagles just continue to the level at which they’ve been playing. They came within a touchdown of shocking Hampton and have been playing vastly better competition than has Morehead State. Johnson has been doing a great job as starting quarterback and Tim Shankle as a solid runner. The defensive front should have a much easier job getting into the opposing backfield than it had at Hampton or Liberty.
Morehead State will win if: The Blue Eagles can figure out a way to generate enough yardage on the ground, stay competitive in the kicking game and force more turnovers than they commit. They’re going to have to find a way to ruin Michael Johnson’s day and keep Teryl White from wreaking havoc in the Morehead State backfield.
Which Eagles will be no common, ordinary barnyard fowl? It should be N.C. Central. Rison’s team is at home on the artificial turf for the first time, is certainly not overmatched, and should by all accounts have dozens of athletes who are more talented than their counterparts on the visiting team. If NCCU doesn’t win, it’s going to be awfully hard to get any momentum before the middle of the season.
Players to watch …
NCCU: #11 LB Donald Laster, #15 QB Michael Johnson, #50 LB Teryl White, #83 WR Will Scott.
Morehead State: #5 RB Desmond Cox, #8 HB Ronnie McDermott, #11 QB Evan Sawyer, #35 LB Josh Ballard.
Injury report … NCCU: None reported. Morehead State: None reported.
Vegas line: None. Dunkel Index says even.
Score prediction: NCCU 24, Morehead State 7.