Rivalry, Playoffs highlight weekend
Old Dominion meets Norfolk State in first round FCS action
A sneak preview of a recently scheduled series, a fight for conference pride and a bayou battle with more on the line than usual highlight this weekend’s HBCU football games.
MEAC: Five miles separate the campuses of Norfolk State and Old Dominion, the idea of scheduling a series between the football programs was bound to happen one day. One day has come two years early.
The two schools were set to begin a six-year series in 2013 with the first game to have taken place at NSU. The Football Championship Series playoffs will give fans a preview of this series this weekend when the Spartans and Monarchs – both 9-2 – meeting the first round at Old Dominion’s S.B. Stadium.
This matchup will have that new car smell. NSU, champion of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, is playing its first FCS appearance. ODU, a first-year member of the Colonial Athletic Conference and in just its third year of playing football, is making its first playoff appearance.
Pete Adrian, NSU’s head coach, noted this week that there are no bad teams in the tournament at this point. But that his team is playing a rival, heck, a neighbor adds to the intensity. The rosters are loaded with local kids. The Spartans have 31 players from the area, while the Monarchs have 40 from the Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Suffolk, Portsmouth, Newport News, and Hampton communities.
“The excitement here on this campus has never been higher than it is right now,” Adrian said. “The fact that we’re playing Old Dominion, which is a natural rival is a great thing. Like [ODU] Coach (Bobby) Wilder has said before, this should be a great thing for the city.
“We go out and play each other and let the fans do all the talking, and after it’s over go out and eat hot dogs together. We’re excited about it. I know our kids have played seven on seven with their kids throughout the summer. It’s going to be fun.”
This is NSU’s first playoff appearance of any kind since it advanced to the Division II playoffs in 1984. So Adrian, who is making his sixth playoff appearance – his first as a head coach – has picked up a few new friends via email and phone calls, and has attended to more off field responsibilities this week in addition to preparing for what should be a very tough game. If the Spartans win, it will snap the MEAC’s 14-game playoff losing streak.
“It’s a new experience for us,” Adrian said. “It hasn’t happened around here since 1984. People have been waiting a long time and as they say, they’re coming out of the woodwork. That’s a good thing.
“(ODU) an excellent football team. They play in probably the top conference in the country. A team that’s in their third year to go 9-2 is phenomenal. They’ve got very good football players. There’s no question about that.”
The Monarchs are 26-7 in their three years of existence and their 9-2 record coming out of the CAA is no joke as the conference sent five teams into the playoffs. And they should have quite a crowd on hand at their stadium as the Monarchs have sold it out all three seasons.
“I felt all along this was the team we were going to play,” Wilder said of NSU. “That this was a regional match. Would be a great game of interest, which I think is part of what this tournament should be about. Allowing for teams to play each other that are close enough regionally where fans could travel, so I had a feeling we’d be playing Norfolk State in the first round at home.”
But playing in the first round is something that Wilder was trying to avoid leading up to this weekend’s matchup. ODU was a powerhouse this season and in some circles it was felt it warranted first-round bye. Wilder dismissed that talk. His team is one of 20 with a shot at the national title now. He is more concerned with the task at hand. That mindset, he said, has served his team well.
“What we’ve done all year long is the next opponent is the most important opponent,” Wilder said. “We respect all, fear none. And that’s what we’ll do this week. Norfolk State is the most important opponent that we play this year. This is the game that matters the most. This is all we can control right now. And we’re in a position right now in this tournament where we control our destiny. And that’s exciting.”
CIAA: Winston-Salem State, Central Intercollegiate Athletic Conference champs, rested last week after receiving a first round bye in the Division II playoffs. Up next: California (Pa.), the team that drilled CIAA championship game runner up, 44-0 last weekend. Now WSSU puts its 11-0 mark on the line and the reputation of the conference.
In 30 playoff games, the CIAA has won just two. WSSU owns one of those wins, 17-0 against Cal Poly in 1978. It is 1-4 all-time in the playoffs. In its last appearance, WSSU lost to Jacksonville State 49-24 in 1991.
Cal will likely play the game without its head coach John Luckhardt. Last week it was thought he was suffering from flu-like symptoms following the Vulcans’ win. That wasn’t the case. He has kidney stones and his doctors have advised him not to make the 369 mile bus ride to Winston-Salem.
SWAC: Grambling has its fate in its own hands. A win Saturday in the Bayou Classic against Southern and it wraps up the Western Division and a berth in the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship game against Alabama A&M.
GSU (6-4, 5-3) leads Arkansas-Pine Bluff (6-5, 5-4) and Prairie View (5-6, 5-4). If it loses, and since it lost to PV in a head-to-head matchup this season, the Panthers will earn the championship game berth.