It has been 20 years since Winston-Salem State played in a playoff game, and Saturday it made sure it was going to stay around a little bit longer. The Rams (12-0), No. 1 seed in the region, played perhaps their best game of the season to knock off the fifth seed California (Pa.) 35-28 at Bowman-Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Also in HBCU play, the results were not as good for Norfolk State as the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champions ended its season, and Grambling State earned its way into the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship game with a convincing win at the Bayou Classic.
SWAC: The D.J. Williams-to-Mario Louis combination was a potent one Saturday as the duo accounted for three touchdowns in Grambling State’s 36-12 win against Southern. With the victory, turnover-prone Grambling State’s (7-4) wrapped up the Western Division title and a berth in the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship game Dec. 10 in Birmingham, Ala., against Alabama A&M (8-3).
The win was Grambling State’s sixth in a row and its fourth consecutive win at the Bayou Classic. That is impressive when you look back at how this season started for head coach Doug Williams — losing four of his first five.
CIAA: Winston-Salem State avenged the reputation of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Conference with a strong defense and the running of Nic Cooper to advance in the playoffs. For those keeping score, in 31 playoff games, the CIAA’s all-time record is 3-28. Winston-Salem State owns two of those three wins.
For a while, it looked like the Rams were going to win in walk. It forced standout Cal quarterback Pete Lalich into a season-high three interceptions, those three turnovers led to 21 points for the Rams — the last turned into Cooper’s third touchdown and a 35-14 lead early in the third quarter. Cooper rushed for 118 yards in the game.
The Vulcans would not go quietly Lalich kept throwing and engineered drives that scored twice in a three-minute span, and pulled the Vulcans to within a touchdown. Winston-Salem State would hold on however with a fourth-and-1 game-saving stop near midfield with 48 seconds left. Lalich finished with 381 yards on 30-of-47 passing — his fourth 300-yard game of the season.
This Saturday, Winston-Salem State will host New Haven, the No. 2 seed, in the region. And the Rams hopeful that linebacker Antonio Gates will suit up, Gates was injured returning Lalich’s third interception.
MEAC: Simply put, Old Dominion aired Norfolk State out in the first round of the FCS NCAA tournament. Freshman quarterback Taylor Heinicke threw for 269 yards and five touchdowns for Old Dominion’s 35-18 win against Norfolk State.
The Spartans (9-3) not only had to handle the aerial assault, but also shooting itself in the foot with 18 penalties, and having two field goals blocked.
“I congratulate Old Dominion for playing a solid football game on both sides of the ball,” Pete Adrian, NSU head coach, said. “We made too many mistakes today. You can’t commit 18 penalties and expect to beat a good football team. Old Dominion was the better team (Saturday).”
Its lone highlight was on its first drive — a 98-yard pass play that gave it its only lead of the game. NSU quarterback Chris Walley threw for a career-high 363 yards and completed 28-of-43 passes with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Although the playoff loss ended the Spartans’ first playoff appearance, it did not blot out the team’s accomplishments. Its nine wins are the most in its Division I era (since 1997) and second-most in school history behind the 1984 team that finished 10-2.
“We had a phenomenal season,” Adrian said. “This group made a lot of history for the school and I’m very proud of them. It’s hard to see it end this way.”
The10th-ranked Monarchs (10-2) advance to the second round next Saturday against third-seeded Georgia Southern.
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