Pleased, but hardly satisfied. Winston-Salem State whipped Shippensburg (Pa.) 37-14 in the second round of the NCAA Division II football playoffs last Saturday. And while the Rams do have cause to celebrate, there’s still no reason to get overly excited.
Every player on the WSSU roster knows that there’s so much more to accomplish.
The Rams victory marked the first time that a black college football team has ever won a postseason game in back-to-back seasons. That’s important to note because black colleges are typically one-and-done in the football playoffs.
Winston-Salem State, ranked No. 2 nationally, looks to keep its postseason hopes alive when it faces Indiana University (Pa.) in the quarterfinals at Bowman Gray Stadium on Saturday (noon kickoff).
Middle linebacker Carlos Fields realizes that dwelling on last year isn’t going to help WSSU win the grand prize – a national championship. The Rams came close a year ago in reaching the semifinals. But a deflating home loss to Wayne State (Mich.) kept them out of the championship game and wrecked their title plans.
“None of us are thinking about what happened last year,” said Fields, who recorded a team-high eight tackles vs. Shippensburg. “Yes, we almost got it done, but now it’s another season. It’s important for us to keep moving forward. To get what we’re after, we have to do more (than last year). That’s why we’re not worrying about history.”
Shackle factor ‘D’
Any concerns about Winston-Salem State’s ability to handle a high-scoring offense were answered last Saturday. Shippensburg averaged 49.6 points and 550.8 total offensive yards a game. The Rams defense, however, went into padlock mode and forced five turnovers. In the process, they limited the Red Raiders to 280 total yards and a pair of touchdowns.
“Our offense feeds off of our defense,” said WSSU defensive end Justin Wilkerson. “They get momentum when we force turnovers and when we stop the other team’s offense with three-and-outs.”
Even though Shippensburg put points on the board, one could reasonably argue that the Rams defense pitched a shut-out. The Red Raiders scored when linebacker Brian Sourber picked off WSSU quarterback Anthony Carrothers’ pass and ran it back 63 yards. In the late stages of the first half, Blair Brook returned a kickoff 86 yards and Shippensburg scored three plays later.
“When I look at the stat sheet and see that Shippensburg ran 78 plays and had 280 yards, that’s pretty good,” said Winston-Salem State Coach Connell Maynor. “If our defense can play better than that, I’d like to see it.”
IUP vs. WSSU
Both teams play swarming, suffocating defense, so don’t expect a high-scoring game. Most likely, the final outcome will hinge on turnovers, special teams and field position.
Indiana relies on a time-consuming ground game that features Harvey Tuck and De’Antwan Williams, who have combined to rush for 2,866 yards and 25 touchdowns. IUP has an efficient passing game with Mike Box (1,215 yards and 12 touchdowns), who has thrown only two interceptions.
Winston-Salem State has enough offensive balance (Carrothers, Maurice Lewis, Jameze Massey and Jahuann Butler) to pose problems for IUP. Yet, it’s crucial that the Rams avoid turnovers and protect Carrothers, a Grambling transfer who played well last week as a stand-in for starting quarterback Kameron Smith.
The Crimson Hawks, who allow 11.85 points per game, rank among the national leaders in scoring defense and they have a ferocious pass rush (34 sacks). IUP’s defense, however, is not invincible.