Missed it by two…
ROCKY MOUNT – Two, two and two.
Two years, two tries and two yards.
All three figured in for Chowan Saturday night as the Hawks nearly pulled off the biggest upset of the young Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) season at the Rocky Mount Athletic Complex against Elizabeth City State in the 12th annual Down East Viking Football Classic.
Unfortunately, Chowan’s second attempt at taking the lead in the contest fell two yards short with time winding down and ECSU prevailed, 35-30. The loss dropped the Hawks to 0-4 on the season.
But the five-point loss which was valiantly contested to the end is a big difference from last season’s first meeting between the two schools, who are developing quite a rivalry, when ECSU prevailed, 55-3.
Yep, what a difference a year makes.
And for any doubters about the ‘warrior-status’ of Chowan senior quarterback C.J. Westler check out these record numbers: Westler accounted for all but 26 of the Hawks 562 yards of total offense. He threw for 382 yards and four touchdowns and carried the ball 21 times for 154 yards on the ground. Numbers good enough to earn him “CIAA Offensive Back-of-the-Week”.
That was overshadowed, however by a costly interception return for a touchdown and two fumbles less than five yards short of paydirt – the last of which might have been the game winner.
“It’s a shame it had to end the way it did,” said an emotionally-spent Chowan coach Tim Place, “because that’s one of the greatest games I’ve ever seen. That’s a five-eight, five-nine kid running away from great athletes. That kid competes.”
“It comes down to the little things,” said Westler after the game and still looking as if he could go another quarter of football. “Soon as we correct the little things that’s when we’re going to start getting the wins, but it’s disappointing right now because I felt like we had that one in the bag.”
Freshman receiver Robert Holland was cited for back-to-back league honors. Last week he was “CIAA Receiver-of-the Week,” and this time he was “Rookie of the Week.” The Newport News native had his second big game with 12 catches for 197 yards and a touchdown.
Meanwhile sophomore teammate Robert Holland also picked up kudos as “Receiver-of-the Week” for his 87 receiving yards and three touchdown performance in the loss.
Despite giving up a pair of touchdowns on big plays, the Chowan defense also stepped up, holding the Vikings to a season-low 304 yards of offense and just 27 rushing yards. Jeremy Bednardz-Gray had five and a half tackles, including one for a loss.
“We’ve just got to come together at the end,” said exhausted senior linebacker Greg Palmer, who had one of Chowan’s three sacks. “We fought hard today and maybe they took us for granted, but we’re going to get there.”
Elizabeth City opened the game with two early scores, the first one coming on the first play from scrimmage when Viking quarterback and former Pasquotank High star Creven Powell hit Dexter Manley with an 80-yard strike just 13 seconds into the game for a 7-0 lead after the PAT.
The Vikings later scored in the second quarter on a short Cedric Blacknall run to make it 14-0 before Chowan went to work. Westler capped a seven-play, 68-yard drive with an 11-yard strike to Hodrick and the Cory Cline kick left the Hawks trailing by seven.
ECSU next scored on a turnover when Westler was intercepted by Kobi Williams who returned the ‘pick-six’ 63 yards to make it 21-7.
Cline would add a 32-yard field goal as time expired to make it 21-10 at halftime.
Chowan opened the second half with a methodical 14-play drive that chewed over eight minutes off the clock and ended with Westler hitting Holdrick from four yards out. The two-point conversion missed and Chowan had cut ECSU’s lead to five at 21-16.
Two possessions later, Elizabeth City wowed the crowd with a double reverse as receiver Tashawn Lee threw to a wide open Casey Owens who took it in from 45 yards out and made it 28-16.
The fourth quarter opened with Chowan continuing a drive begun in the third that brought the Hawks to the one-yardline. Westler then tried a quarterback sneak and the ball appeared to cross the goal line, but the Vikes’ Todd Irving knocked the ball from Westler’s grasp and Elizabeth City recovered to end the threat.
“I got a little surge at first and I thought I was in,” recalled Westler, “but when I stretched it out to make sure, the ball got knocked out and I didn’t really fight for (the loose ball) because I thought I had made it.”
Westler bounced right back, leading a 52-yard drive that this time made it across the goal line thanks to Holland’s second scoring catch of the day and again the Hawks were within five.
Powell came back following the Chowan kickoff to lead an 81-yard drive capped by Owens’ second score and push the lead back to 12. But back came Chowan again and Westler’s fourth TD pass of the evening pulled the Hawks to 35-30.
With under three minutes to go in the game, Elizabeth City tried to eat up some clock and Chowan burned its final three time-outs. After two tackles-for-a-loss, Bednardz-Gray stopped a run on third-and-15 forcing the Vikings to punt it away to the Chowan 43-yardline with 2:07 left.
After an incompletion, the Chowan offensive line made a hole in the middle and Westler scrambled through down to the five-yard line for first-and-goal and stunning the ECSU crowd.
Westler then threw short to Shamichael Rivers; and on the next play Williams, who’d earlier made the scoring interception, knocked the ball loose and the Vikings recovered to kill the clock.
“We bent more than I thought we’d bend,” said jubilant Elizabeth City coach Waverly Tillar, “but when we needed it our guys came up big.”
“It’s a relief,” added Powell, dropping to one knee from fatigue and gesturing toward the Chowan players. “They played a great game today.”
“That’s four games now we’ve left on the field,” said Place, gesturing toward the scoreboard. “We’ve come a long way, but we’re not where we want to be.”
Chowan (0-4) is back in CIAA action this Saturday with a road trip to Richmond to face Virginia Union in a game set for a 1 p.m. kickoff.