Broncos spoil Chowan opener

Published 10:59 am Tuesday, September 5, 2017

MURFREESBORO – Chowan University saw its three-year season-opening winning streak snapped here Saturday night as Fayetteville State snapped its own nine-game season-opener losing streak when the visiting Broncos claimed a 24-21 win.

A late fourth quarter drive stalled for the Hawks just at the tip of the FSU red zone on the 19 yard line. As Chowan lined up for a field goal attempt a high snap that became an incomplete pass killed a chance at a tie and Fayetteville State escaped with the three-point win, their first in a season opener since 2008.

The loss spoiled some noteworthy performances for a pair of Chowan’s offensive stars. Freshman quarterback Bryce Witt played like a veteran in his first-ever college football game, amassing 257 yards passing on a 17-for-28 effort with one interception. His backfield mate – redshirt sophomore running back Tyrell Freeman – also turned some heads with a 167 yard ground-game on 21 carries in his debut at Garrison Stadium.

However, mistakes doomed a young squad with a pair of interceptions and four fumbles; they also racked up 68 yards in penalties.

“Mistakes, critical mistakes,” fumed 10th year Chowan head coach Tim Place after the game. “No blame, no excuses, we have to expect better results from our efforts.”

A pair of Chowan University football players had impressive debuts Saturday in the Hawks’ season-opener. Freshman quarterback Bryce Witt (above) threw for 257 yards and three touchdowns while redshirt sophomore running back Tyrell Freeman (below) ran for 167 yards. However Fayetteville State held off a Chowan comeback and won 24-21. Next Level Photos / Charles Revelle

Starting on their own 21 yard line on their first possession, Witt coolly marched the team downfield on eight plays, capped by a 20 yard strike to Adrian McNeil for the game’s first score and a 7-0 Hawk lead after the Connor Killeen extra-point attempt.

Fayetteville State answered on the ensuing drive after being set up with a great kickoff return to the Chowan 40 yard line. The Broncos rushed for 40 yards on the drive capped off by a game-tying four yard quarterback plunge.

FSU took a 14-7 lead with 6:23 remaining in the half when Donshel Jetton found a seam for a 31 yard touchdown run to put the Broncos on top by seven.

After a Witt interception, Nate Wyche helped the Chowan defense step up big with forcing an FSU three-and-out.  Richie Staton snuffed out a screen play on third down dropping the Broncos’ receiver in the backfield for an 11 yard loss forcing a punt.

Chowan drove to midfield, but the time-consuming drive stalled and the game remained a one-touchdown deficit for the home team at halftime, 14-7.

The two teams held each other pretty much in check until midway through the third quarter when muffed a punt on its own three-yard line proved costly for Chowan. It only took Fayetteville State 42 seconds to take advantage of the miscue as Bronco quarterback Kane Banner plunged over from the one-yard line for his second rushing touchdown of the game and suddenly the Hawks were looking up from a 14-point hole: 21-7, Broncos.

The shortfall must have served as a wake-up call for Chowan as they went on an 80-yard drive – aided by a pass interference call – before Freeman broke off an impressive 30-yard run, dragging Bronco tacklers down to the FSU 32-yard line. On the ensuing play Witt swung a screen pass out to the left side to Michael Offutt Jr, who streaked back across the middle of the field and found pay dirt for the 32 yard touchdown, cutting the FSU lead back to seven after the Killeen kick.

The Broncos return game once again gave them favorable field position after a 42 yard return set them up in Chowan territory at the 43 yard line.  FSU running back Stevie Green found a gap to put the Broncos in the red zone where once again the Hawks’ defense played big and the drive stalled.  FSU called on kicker David Lamb, who booted through a successful field goal attempt from 27 yards out, and the Broncos had pushed their advantage back to a double-digit lead, 24-14, with a dozen-and-a-half minutes left in regulation.

Again, Chowan answered, back-to-back strong runs by Freeman got the Hawks to midfield on their next possession.  Torry Baker was then found wide open behind the defensive secondary on a touch pass from Witt for a 50 yard scoring strike to pull the Hawks to within three, 24-21, with 11:05 remaining.

The Chowan defense’s best effort came out on the next FSU possession, holding the Broncos to three-and-out as Wyche sacked Banner for a five-yard loss forcing a punt with just over nine minutes left in the game.

Next came the type of football that would make any old trench-fighter proud. Chowan moved the ball methodically down the field from their own 18 to the Bronco 18 as Witt accounted for a pair of long-gainers on the drive – a 22-yard strike to Paul Gooden and a 16-yard route to Adrian McNeil.

But there, the drive stalled and out came kicker Killeen to line up for what would have been a game-tying field goal. But the snap was somehow bobbled and the chance at knotting the game with about 2:15 left would not come to be.

The Broncos needed just one first-down for the clock-killer and they got it on Stevie Green’s last runs. The former CIAA Offensive ‘Rookie of the Year’ blasted through the Chowan defense at the 22 yard-line and his 17 yard gain left just a minute-fifteen on the clock. Chowan burned its last time out and two more short Green runs gave second-year coach Richard Hayes his first-ever win over the Hawks.

“We had momentum and then kinda relaxed,” Hayes said after the game. “But these are young guys and I just have to coach them up a little better in tight situations.”

“I take this loss a little personally,” said Witt. “I’m going into the next game with a chip on my shoulder.

“I didn’t have any jitters getting out there (for his first college game). “I’ve been playing this game for a long time,” he stated.

“I didn’t expect the dogfight we got out of them,” said Wyche, who led the defense with 11 tackles and three-and-a-half sacks. “No heads down, a ‘next-play’ mentality, and let’s go for 9-and-1.”

“I’ll watch film to see what I need to do to get better,” said Freeman. “A 9-1 record sounds mighty good to me.”

Chowan (0-1) will head on the road for the first of two road trips down south beginning Saturday when the Hawks travel to Cleveland, Mississippi to face Delta State (1-0) in a non-conference battle Sept. 9.  Kick-off is slated for 3 p.m.