Hawks come full circle

Published 11:12 am Wednesday, October 17, 2012

MURFREESBORO – Full circle.

August 30, 2008, Chowan versus Elizabeth City State, marked Tim Place’s initiation into Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) football.

His first game ever as head coach of the Hawks was at ECSU’s Roebuck Stadium and it ended with the Vikings drubbing Chowan, 55-3.

It marked Chowan’s first year in the league and they finished last in their division.

Jump ahead now five years to this Saturday, October 20, 2012, with Place and his Chowan team returning to Roebuck.

But this time, it’s in a battle for first place.

Both teams enter the Vikings’ Homecoming contest with identical records of 4-3 overall and 3-1 in CIAA division play.

Chowan owns league wins over Shaw, Fayetteville State and Virginia Union – with their only slip-up coming at home against Bowie State.

ECSU has games in hand versus Fayetteville, St. Augustine’s and Lincoln; while their only setback came on the road at Virginia State.

Saturday’s winner of the game – with a 1:30 p.m. kickoff – will control the division with two games to go and have a leg-up on playing in Raleigh on November 10 for the CIAA Championship.

Place admits his experiences on the field at Roebuck haven’t been pleasant ones – losses in ’08 and ’10 – but he’s hoping for a better outcome in his third effort.

“They (ECSU) are a real good team and they’ve set the standard for the CIAA, but we have to be concerned with ourselves,” Place said. “We have to show up (Saturday) and play.”

Place declared his team’s effort versus Virginia Union in Saturday’s 28-21 homecoming win as ‘average’, but he’s more satisfied to have the win despite a second week’s close call at the end of the game.

“We’ll take it,” he said. “The team left it all out on the field, but once again we must take advantage of our opportunities”

He also expressed his displeasure at 143 yards worth of penalties that the Hawks gave up to the Panthers.

“(This week) we have to have a quality week of practice with good preparation because a lack of composure and discipline can hurt us,” he insisted. “We can’t be our own worst enemy and beat ourselves.”

During the weekly CIAA coaches and players conference call, both Place and ECSU field boss Waverly Tillar, shared thoughts on their teams and on the upcoming crucial game.

“It’s the last homecoming for our seniors,” said Tillar hoping the weekend’s festivities will not become a distraction to his club. “But they (and the rest of the team) can celebrate after the game.

“This week, if it’s not about Chowan, I don’t want to hear it, “he added with emphasis. “We have to play for no mistakes, be consistent, and hope we can catch a break.”

The Vikings boast one of the CIAA’s early All-American candidates in running back, Daronte McNeill, a 6’-2”, 220-pound bruiser who is second in the CIAA in rushing.

McNeill, the former Northeastern High School star, is averaging over 105 yards per game, and is tied for first in the league with 10 touchdowns scored – including rushing for a record six six-pointers last weekend at Lincoln.

“I told the team (last weekend) at halftime that we controlled this game and that’s when we started blowing them out,” said the CIAA Player of the Week on the conference call, referring to the 63-19 Viking win that was only 21-7, ECSU, at halftime.

As for Chowan, Place knows ECSU probably won’t deviate from the running game as opposed to last week’s opponent (55 passes versus 19 runs).

“We have to score more points than Elizabeth City, stop the run, and win the game on special teams,” he said.

Last week, the Hawks’ defense stepped up big.  A school record five interceptions, one of which was returned for the game winning touchdown, a goal-line stand on the one-yard line, and a final stand at the end of the game.

“The defensive line didn’t flinch,” said Place. “The offensive line didn’t play as well, but we have higher expectations this weekend. ”

Offensively, quarterback Cameron Stover is fifth in the league in passing with 15 touchdowns, spreading the ball around among a large contingent of receivers. The running back corps led by Elliot Smalls and J.R. Williams have done well according to the coach.

“I have a lot of respect for our receiving corps,” he said. “They’ve stepped up and done a great job, but we don’t win it in pre-game.

“We have to play smart, play fast and play together,” he added.  “We’re going into what will be a very hostile environment and we can’t let the moment overwhelm us. We must focus.”

Place will do his best the rest of this week to get his players to keep this game in perspective.

“The circle started here in ’08,” he said. “Now we’re back with an opportunity to be in first place.

“We have to create a positive legacy looking forward because we all realize how big a game this is,” he added. “This is our opportunity.”