Stellar play catapults Rams into title game
A few days have passed since Winston-Salem State administered a 41-18 beat-down of West Texas A&M in the NCAA Division II football semifinals.
[pullquote]“We played great (in the semifinals), almost flawless,” said Connell Maynor, Winston-Salem State’s head coach. “Now we have to play great just one more time.”[/pullquote]The Ramatized crowd at Bowman Gray Stadium had good reason to dance and prance with glee. The victory catapulted their beloved home team into Saturday’s national championship in Florence, Ala. WSSU takes on Valdosta State (Ga.) at 1 p.m. in a nationally televised game on ESPN2.
“We played great (in the semifinals), almost flawless,” said Connell Maynor, Winston-Salem State’s head coach. “Now we have to play great just one more time.”
Advancing to the title game, however, is not nearly enough for this bunch. There’s more to come. Maynor has groomed his team to be ready for this appointed time. It’s safe to say that for WSSU, complete fulfillment will only come by winning the championship trophy and the banner that comes with it.
“From the very first day he got here, Coach Maynor has constantly preached to us about winning a national championship,” said linebacker Carlos Fields, who had 10 tackles against West Texas A&M. “This is bigger than WSSU, bigger than Coach Maynor, bigger than the city of Winston-Salem.”
Fields is fully aware of the game’s historical significance. Literally speaking, it’s been eons since a black college won a NCAA championship in football. Florida A&M was the Division I-AA champ in 1978. And, it’s been quite some time since a HBCU has even advanced to the title game (Central State of Ohio lost to North Dakota State in the 1983 championship). No black school has ever won the Division II championship.
“That’s added motivation,” Fields said. “All of the other HBCUs around the country are behind us. We know they’ll all be watching, and that’s a big boost.”
It remains to be seen if Winston-Salem State (14-0) is this year’s team of destiny. So far, the Rams have met all challenges. Even so, there’s always a chance that overconfidence could set in. It’s not an unreasonable possibility.
After all, WSSU did drop the sledge hammer on a West Texas A&M team that crushed Colorado State-Pueblo (34-13) in the quarterfinals. By the way, Colorado State-Pueblo was the No. 1 seeded team in the playoffs.
Fields doesn’t see his teammates taking anything for granted. The Rams, he emphasized, have come too far to be denied the prize they’ve set their sights on since losing to Wayne State (Mich.) in last year’s semifinals.
“This is not a case of anybody on our team being glad just to be going to Alabama to play for the championship,” he said. “It comes down to everybody giving their all. It’s going to be a fight all the way from beginning to end. There will probably be some adversity (on Saturday), but we’re determined to persevere. We’ve gotta see it through.”