Hawks fall with 48 seconds to play
MURFREESBORO – 48 seconds.
That’s how close Chowan University’s football team stood to history.
Nursing a three-point lead and with the clock ticking the Hawks were unable to hold off a final rally by Bowie State as the Bulldogs scored a game-winning 57-yard touchdown and crushed Chowan’s hopes of first place outright in the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) Northern Division.
The 35-31 come-from-behind victory by BSU was Chowan’s first loss in CIAA play this year and dropped them to 3-3 overall and 2-1 in the division.
Earlier in the day, Elizabeth City State had lost in Petersburg to Virginia State leaving the Hawks on history’s doorstep in their seventh year of NCAA Division-II competition. A win would’ve put Chowan over .500 for the first time in D-II at 4-2 in addition to giving them the league lead.
And the team had fought so valiantly trying to reach that mark; erasing an 18-point third quarter Bowie lead en route to 536 yards of total offense: their best output since racking up 650 yards against Livingstone in the season-opener.
But the good news is with both leaders losing, there remains a tie for first place atop the standings.
Three times in the first half Chowan had great scoring opportunities being on at least the BSU 10-yard line. Once they fumbled the ball away, another time they were intercepted and the third time was a missed field-goal.
Senior running back Elliot Smalls paced the Hawks offense with a career-high 127 rushing yards in the contest.
“They kept telling me how many yards I had at halftime and I kept telling them I didn’t want to hear it; and now it doesn’t mean as much because we didn’t come out with a victory,” the Raleigh native said.
Junior quarterback Cameron Stover completed 22-of-33 passes for 311 yards.
“We weren’t focused in at practice this week and it kind of showed out here today when we couldn’t punch it in three times in the red zone,” he said.
Sophomore Ryan Nolan led seven different Hawk receivers in catches with nine for a total of 130 yards, also a career-high, while teammate Antjuan Randall also topped the century mark with five grabs for 106 yards.
On defense, Dakorian DeSamme had eight tackles in the loss while William Griffith and T.J. Batchelor chipped in with seven tackles each.
“We won’t point fingers, we won’t make excuses,” said a disappointed Hawks’ coach Tim Place after the game. “If you want to be successful on a consistent basis you’ve got to take advantage of situations and we didn’t do it.”
Chowan marched 67 yards on their first possession to the Bowie State six-yard line, most of it on the feet of Smalls. However, on the next play they fumbled and the Bulldogs recovered, but weren’t able to capitalize.
The next time the Hawks got the ball they made it to the BSU 10 before Stover tried to hit freshman Damien Ellis over the middle. The ball was deflected high in the air and intercepted by Bowie.
The third possession proved to be the charm as Chowan marched 72 yards to their first score, a one-yard plunge by Stover, highlighted by a pair of long completions to Randall and Nolan. Alex Noboa’s kick made it 7-0.
Bowie wasted little time striking back: getting the equalizer to open the second quarter and make it, 7-7.
The Bulldogs then followed that up with another touchdown on their next possession and led, 14-7.
Chowan’s next scoring chance came with under seven minutes to halftime with a long drive to the Bulldog five-yard line. However, they couldn’t punch it in on three tries and Noboa went on to miss a 30-yard field goal, wide left so it remained a seven-point game at the break.
Both teams scored in the first three minutes of the second half: Bowie with a touchdown and Chowan getting a successful field goal on their second try to trail, 21-10.
After the Chowan score Bowie drove 82 yards for a touchdown and an 18-point lead, 28-10.
Chowan’s next drive was highlighted by a spectacular 54-yard completion from Stover to Randall. Twice the Florida sophomore looked to have been tackled, but instead he juked his way through the Bulldog defense, spinning, weaving and tight-rope walking the sideline and appeared to score.
“I just grabbed the ball and tried to make people miss,” said Randall. “I had blockers and I followed them. I was tired, but I just wanted to get to the end-zone.”
But Randall didn’t make it to the end zone. The refs ruled he stepped out at the one-yard line and a penalty moved the ball back to 15. Two plays later J.R. Williams scored from a yard out; however, their two-point attempt failed and Bowie’s lead was 28-16.
Chowan got the fourth quarter underway with a one-yard plunge by Adrian Ferns to pull within five following the point after, 28-23. Meanwhile the Hawks’ defense held BSU to a pair of three-and-outs.
Chowan’s go-ahead score came on a nine-play, 68-yard drive capped by Ellis’ only catch of the day: a seven-yard strike from Stover. Stover next hit Randall with the two-point conversion and the Hawks went back in front, 31-28.
With 2:43 to go, Bowie started what proved to be the winning drive. With no time-outs, the Bulldogs worked the clock for the next two minutes; fighting off a pair of incompletions and a penalty to get near midfield at their own 43-yard line with 48 seconds left.
On the next play, BSU redshirt freshman Keith Brown took off on the longest run of his career: he sidestepped the Hawks’ interior defense, got to the outside, and swatted at tacklers until he got into the clear at the 15-yard line and sprinted the rest of the way to the go-ahead score, stunning the Chowan crowd who watched their home team fail to score in the final 33 seconds.
“I feel like it was just careless tackling,” said a frustrated Batchelor. “There’s not much more to say except this is just one we have to swallow.”
Chowan will celebrate Homecoming next Saturday at 6 p.m. when they welcome Virginia Union to Garrison Stadium.