Hawks survive on final play
MURFREESBORO – It looked for a while like déjà vu.
Then everybody in Garrison Stadium realized it was only a test, and let out a deep sigh of relief.
For the second game in a row the Chowan football team found itself having to fend off a Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) opponent’s rally as the clock ticked towards the end of the contest.
But this time, the Hawks’ defense came up big.
So big that the 28-21 win over Virginia Union University kept Chowan (4-3, 3-1) in a tie for first place in the CIAA Northern division, and setting up a showdown next week at Elizabeth City State’s Roebuck Stadium that may decide who goes to Raleigh to play for the CIAA Championship.
VUU had first and goal from the Chowan seven with 30 seconds left to play, but four Panther passes fell incomplete – the last one as time expired to allowed the Hawks to escape with the win.
While the Blue-and-White offense gets most of the game glory, Saturday’s Homecoming game was a day for the defense.
In addition to the final stop as the clock ticked away; earlier in the contest the ‘D’ had stopped the Panthers on the one-yard line and then saw the offense go 99 yards for the game’s first score.
The defense stopped Union on two of their first three possessions, including the goal-line stand; and the game-winning touchdown came on an interception – one of a school-record five on the night – that was returned for a score.
And the Chowan offense? A clean slate: no turnovers.
Junior quarterback Cameron Stover threw for 324 yards and three touchdowns, going 23-of-38 in completions and connecting with seven different receivers.
On the ground, Elliot Smalls rushed for a team-high 70 yards on the evening – his third straight game of grinding it out for at least that many yards; and Ryan Nolan and Antjuan Randall led the receiving corps with 95 and 71 yards respectively in catches.
“We’ve got to find a way to finish it, not give the other team life ” said relieved Chowan coach Tim Place after the game.
“We find ways to make it interesting be it good or bad,” he added with a chuckle.
This game had its good and it’s bad, and the 19 penalties whistled on Chowan for 143 yards was it’s ugly.
Both teams played to a stalemate in the first quarter, neither finding the end zone, though the Panthers were inside the Chowan 35-yard line on all three of their possessions.
On the first one, the ball went over on downs when Devahn Murphy swatted down a pass from the six-yard line, and on the second, Christian Neikens intercepted Union quarterback Kenneth Graham in the end zone.
On Union’s fourth drive – their first of the second quarter – the Panthers drove to the Chowan three-yard line in four plays. But from there, the action belonged to the Hawks’ defense.
The Union running back four times tried to crack the end zone, but the defense did not relent.
“We stayed low, and the secondary played all over the place,” said noseguard Ethan Reedy of the ferocious stand. “I couldn’t have asked for a better defense.”
Next came the drive of the night: marching 99 yards in nine plays to paydirt. During the run, Stover passed to Smalls to get near midfield, and two plays later Stover was on target to Randall from the Union 40-yard line straight to the end zone.
“It was my receivers making plays, and the line holding their own,” said Stover after the game. “Basic execution.”
With less than three minutes to halftime the Hawks struck again. Taking over near midfield, the five-play drive was capped with Nolan hauling in a Stover pass from 19 yards out. The point-after made it 14-0, Chowan.
The shutout euphoria was short-lived, as Panther running back Jerrell Washington took the Chowan kickoff 86 yards for a score to get Union within a touchdown, 14-7, going into halftime.
In the second half Union tied the score on their second possession and the score was 14-14 headed to the fourth quarter.
Chowan opened the final stanza with Stover hitting tight-end Bryan Harris for one of his two catches on the night, but it was one that counted: a 21-yard bullet in the corner of the end zone to make the score 21-14 after the Alex Noboa kick.
“I yelled Stover’s name as loud as I could,” joked Harris after the game. “I knew he couldn’t hear me, but I knew I was going to be open on the back-side and that he’d see me.”
Later in the quarter, Dakorian DeSamme came up with the fourth interception of the night and ran it 56 yards to Chowan’s end zone, giving the Hawks a 27-14 lead and Noboa’s point after kick established a 28-14 advantage.
But the drama did not end, instead, it heightened. Union committed its fifth interception, but Chowan could not capitalize. Then on the Panthers’ next possession, Chowan was whistled for three penalties and Union eventually scored another touchdown to get within seven, 28-21.
With under a minute and a half left in the game, Chowan could not pick up a first down and punted to the Panthers. Union drove to the Chowan seven-yard line before the final defensive stand preserved the win.
“It was our intensity and our mind-set at practice this week,” said defensive end, Aeon Blake. “Like coach says, we win the games with our effort Monday-through-Thursday (in practice).”
The Hawks will now hit the road for a pair of games, first at Elizabeth City State, then at Virginia State before closing out the season at home November 3 against Lincoln.