Quarterback Malcom Bell passes against Duke on September 12, 2015. Photo courtesy of Markell Pitchford

Eagles face first test in Gridiron Classic

September 2, 2016

The last time the Eagles visited Wallace Wade Stadium at the Bull City Gridiron Classic, it wasn’t pretty.

The Eagles, unable to get the ball into the end zone, suffered a crushing 55-0 defeat.

As the team prepares for its fifth meeting with the Blue Devils, players and coaches understand the challenge they will face but said they’re ready to put their hard work to the test.

Last year’s game started out promising enough. After holding the Duke Blue Devils scoreless through most of the first quarter, NCCU seemed to be in a good position.

But soon the size, speed and skill of Duke’s players started to take their toll. The first touchdown of the game near the end of the first quarter seemed to open the flood gates.

By the end of the game the Blue Devils had amassed 655 yards on offense, more yards than any other NCCU opponent in the past, according to NCCU Athletics.

Kickoff for this year’s game is set for 6:04 p.m. Saturday at Wallace Wade Stadium.

“Attention to detail is going to be very important when we play a team like Duke,” said Jerry Mack, NCCU football head coach. “The margin of error is not going to be very big.”

Mack emphasized the amount of work players and coaches put in over the summer. He said Saturday’s matchup will be a good test for the team.

Senior starting quarterback Malcolm Bell said that he’s “not afraid of Duke.”

Bell, a four year player out of Richmond, Va., needs just 91 passing yards to become the seventh Eagle quarter back with 4,000 passing yards and 162 yards of total offense to become the sixth player with 5,000 yards of total offense.

“I’m ready to make a stand and prove to the fans that our practice and hard work through the coaching staff will prove to be very effective,” Bell said.

Bell doesn’t ignore the one sided loss suffered last year but said the team learned a few things from that game.

“Basically, just being more efficient on third down, knowing where they bring blitzes from and just being able to recognize everything they bring at us,” Bell said at an August press conference.

Last year, the Eagles defense struggled. They spent more than 34 minutes on the field and gave up a record number of yards.

Senior defensive tackle Darius Spruill said Saturday’s game is an opportunity for him and the rest of the Eagles defense to improve upon last year’s performance.

“I feel like this is going to be a great showcase of our talent,” he said.

Spruill said he sees the showdown as a way to see “how the team will respond to adversity.”

“I’m excited to see how the team plays in a game-like experience, especially since we lost guys last year and have new guys coming in,” he said.

No matter Saturday’s outcome, players said that fans can expect “a great season.”

Still, if the last five meetings between these two teams tell us anything, it’s that the Eagles will have their hands full from start to finish. But the determined Eagles’ attitude remains the same: play their hardest.

“They don’t shy down from the limelight,” Mack said.

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