The N.C. Central University football team kicked their season off with a bang at the 14th MEAC/SWAC Challenge where they unsuccessfully battled the Prairie View A&M University Panthers in Atlanta, losing 40-24.
Despite the ESPN2-televised event being created in 2005, this is the first time these two teams have faced off against one another.
Prairie View entered the game with a slight advantage, having played a losing game against former NCCU head coach Jerry Mack and his players at Rice University. NCCU, defensively ranked #3 in the MEAC entering the game, struggled early in the first half against a fast-paced Prairie View offense.
Sophomore linebacker Brandon Bailey set the physical tone with a big hit that knocked the ball loose from the opposing receiver. Despite the momentum, The Eagles’ secondary struggled on the first drive as Prairie View moved the ball on consecutive passing plays and a 13 yard run from Panthers junior quarterback Jalen Morton leading to the first touchdown of the game.
Oregon transfer freshman running back Jamal Currie-Elliott showed off his impressive speed on the first Eagles possession by breaking free for a big gain of 23 yards. This play would be one of very few positive plays for NCCU throughout the first half.
Senior defensive end Darius Royster gave the Eagles momentary life as he forced a key fumble giving the Eagle’s offense good field position, but they failed to capitalize and ended the drive with a consecutive 3 and out.
In the first half, The Eagles went on 7 abysmal straight drives, only converting 4 first downs. However, the dry spell was finally broken as NCCU managed a 10-play, 72 yard drive, ending in a goal line score by running back Jamal Currie-Elliott.
With a key defensive stop, NCCU gained momentum going into the Halftime break down, 23 – 7.
The Eagles received the ball to start the 2 half but ended their opening drive with another 3 and out. Their defense would get a sense of revenge as they smothered the PVAMU offense, forcing them to punt on consecutive drives.
NCCU continued to try and bridge the score gap as Sophomore quarterback Chauncey Caldwell dumped a quick screen pass to Junior receiver Sonnie Richardson that resulted in a touchdown, making the score 23-14.
During a later drive, Chauncey Caldwell threw a dime in the corner of the endzone to NC State transfer redshirt sophomore receiver Daeshawn Stephens, putting the score down by only 2 points.
The PVAMU Panthers attempted to retaliate with a touchdown of their own, but the Eagles defense stopped them at the goal line, forcing them to settle for a field goal.
The Fourth quarter started with another successful drive from the Eagles, ending in a 35 yard field goal from redshirt freshman kicker Adam Lippy to bring the score back down to 2.
The Panthers continued to protect their lead with a wide open 21 yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jalen Morton to wide receiver Markcus Hardy.
An interception by Caldwell made matters worse, giving the Panthers the boost they needed. Junior running back Dawonya Tucker would cancel the Eagles’ comeback hopes with a 50-yard touchdown run to give Prairie View a 16-point lead.
In the end, Prairie View A&M’s high-powered offense seemed to be too much for the N.C. Central Eagles as they were able to amass a total of 646 yards compared to the Eagles’ 396 yards.
“I was not pleased with the sloppy play at times,” said NCCU Interim Head Coach Granville Eastman to NCCU Athletics. “We are going to focus on us, and focus on what we are not doing well, iron those out, and then pick up on the things we have been doing well.”
NCCU must fix some of their mistakes in order to have a long and successful season. They are set to host their home opener at O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium against St. Augustine’s University September 8.