N.C. Central is now one win away from returning to the Celebration Bowl after a hard fought 38-24 win against Norfolk State in front of 13,626 fans who packed O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium Saturday.
The Eagles were up 28-10 at halftime, but the Spartans slowly crept back in by scoring 14 unanswered points, bringing the score to 28-24. The Eagles didn’t stop fighting.
“We jumped up on ‘em 28-3 then we kind of relaxed a little bit and lost a little bit of focus,” NCCU head coach Trei Oliver said.
NCCU held the Spartans to a field goal on their first drive.
The Eagle offense came out firing with a 25-yard pass to wide receiver Andrew Smith and a 17-yard pass to wide receiver Quentin McCall before running back Latrell Collier capped off the drive with a 4-yard rushing touchdown.
NCCU relied mainly on the run throughout the game with Collier leading the way with 75 yards out of the team’s 169 rushing yards. The Eagles ran the ball 37 times, and quarterback Davius Richard passed only 16 times, completing 9 for 151 yards and 3 touchdowns.
“If we can run the ball, we’re gonna run it,” Oliver said.
After a blocked punt, the Eagles added to their lead with a 38-yard TD pass to wide receiver Devin Smith and a 31-yard TD strike to tight end Miles Campbell.
On NSU’s next possession defensive lineman Trey Middleton forced a strip sack recovered by defensive lineman Christian Smith that led to Richard’s 7-yard rushing score.
After the Spartans cut the lead to 4, Richard dropped a dime to D. Smith for a 10-yard touchdown two minutes into the 4th quarter, and NCCU kicker Adrian Olivo kicked a 27-yard field goal right down the middle to get the score to 38-24 with 1:49 left in the game.
Eagles defensive back Kole Jones sealed the victory with an interception at the NCCU 4-yard line, sending the homecoming crowd home smiling.
“I just gotta thank God for allowing me to catch that pick,” Jones said. “It felt amazing.”
The Eagles are now 8-1 and rose to No.7 this week in the FCS Top 25 poll, the highest national ranking in program history.
NCCU will travel to Washington, DC to play Howard University Saturday. A win will send the Eagles back to the Celebration Bowl.