Powerful finish

Published 11:53 am Tuesday, October 31, 2017

MURFREESBORO – This one was for the seniors, but their teammates did all they could to give them a better ending.

With just over a minute to go and time running down late in the fourth quarter here Saturday, a costly turnover proved fatal for the Chowan University football team and ended a potential upset bid 26-23 against nationally ranked Virginia State at Garrison Stadium.

Chowan University’s Tyrell Freeman scored a both receiving and rushing touchdown and finished with 144 total yards, but it wasn’t enough Saturday as Virginia State edged the Hawks in the Hall of Fame Game, 26-23. Photo by Qui’Wania Miller

Hurdling a defender at the VSU six-yard line, the ball slipped from quarterback Bryce Witt’s grasp and the Trojans’ Thomas Koufie recovered ending the Hawks’ chance at what might have been the league’s biggest upset of the season.

“I cleared him, and I just lost the ball,” a dejected Witt said after the game. “I know so many of those (VSU) guys, but I really wanted this one bad for our seniors because this is their last time playing on this field. It’s definitely devastating, it’s heart-breaking.”

Witt finished the game on 14-of-28 passing for 192 yards and a touchdown.

Tyrell Freeman led the Hawks rushing and receiving with 85 and 59 yards respectively.  Freeman tallied two touchdowns on the afternoon – one rushing and one receiving.

The Hawks’ defense held the high-powered run game of Virginia State to 220 yards, 75 yards under their season average.

George Parker led the Hawks with 10 tackles.  Dakota Baer and Randy Allen Jr. notched eight tackles each.

Virginia State scored the opening salvo, marching the ball down the field to score on their first possession of the contest gaining 30 yards on the ground as Trojan quarterback Cordelral Cook found the end zone on a six-yard scamper.

On the ensuing drive, Witt hit Ra’Cee Lucas with a 34-yard passing connection that moved the Hawks into Trojan territory.  Back-to-back completions to Tyrell Freeman followed on chunks of 16 and 18 yards taking the ball down to the VSU one-yard line.  Freeman went untouched through the hole for Hawks’ first touchdown, and senior kicker Connor Killeen booted through the extra point that tied the contest at 7-7.

On the ensuring VSU drive, the Trojans were backed up deep in their own territory as an illegal block call forced the visitors to start the drive at their own 10-yard line.  Marquise Baldwin picked up a third down sack that pinned them inside their five-yard line forcing a punt.

Standing in the back of his own end zone, Trojan punter Jesus Valenzuela then bobbled the snap before the onrushing Hawks’ pressure as Chowan brought the house.  He then shanked the punt as Chowan’s Tonee Hill applied pressure from the right side and partially blocked the kick as the ball traveled only to the VSU nine-yard line.  Bryan Bryant caught the punt over his shoulder out of mid-air and practically strolled into the end zone for the punt return score, only the sixth punt return for a touchdown in Chowan Division-II history. Killeen added the extra point to give the Hawks a 14-7 lead.

The first quarter fireworks weren’t finished as Virginia State moved the ball down the field on their final possession of the quarter before CIAA rushing leader, running back Trenton Cannon, scored on a 31-yard sweep.  Cesar Alfaro’s PAT was missed keeping the Hawks in front, 14-13.

Chowan got things rolling in the second quarter on a drive begun at the end of the first as they used a 13-play 77-yard drive that finished in a touchdown for the Hawks.  Witt completed passes to Torry Baker Herman Dupas Jr., and Donald Boone to move the ball into Virginia State territory.

Witt capped the drive with a 20-yard swing pass to Freeman for his second score of the afternoon.  However, Killeen’s PAT was missed, extending the Hawks’ lead to just seven points, 20-13, in favor of Chowan.

Neither team managed to significantly move the chains until the final drive of the half as VSU scored with 16 seconds remaining.  The fleet-footed Cannon was able to find the end zone from one yard out for his second score of the day and the Trojans opted to go for two, but on the conversion attempt, quarterback Cook was tackled just short of the end-line by Chowan’s Tyler Bembry to keep the Hawks in front 20-19 at the mid-break.

In a game of giveaway in the third quarter, the two teams managed to exchange turnovers in the frame as the Hawks fumbled on fourth down.  Later, Dakota Baer hurried backup QB Niko Johnson’s throw and George Parker took the ball away from a VSU receiver to hand it back to Chowan on the next drive. However, the Hawks could not capitalize, and the quarter ended with the Hawks still nursing that one-point lead.

Virginia State would then take their first lead of the game on a 74-yard drive begun in the third, but carried over to the fourth quarter and ended when Cook hit a receiver from eight yards out and the Trojans took a 26-20 lead early in the final stanza.

Chowan answered on their next drive with help from three VSU defensive penalties that moved the ball to the Trojan 16-yard line.  But Witt was sacked on first down, and then a scoring pass to Baker was dropped on what would have been their first hook-up of the day. But Chowan’s drive stalled on a pair of incompletions and a short run to the eight-yard line. Killeen was then successful on a 25-yd field goal that cut the deficit to 26-23 with 7:24 remaining.

VSU started milking the clock, but the Hawks’ defense would have none of it.  On third down near midfield Randy Allen Jr. cut down Cannon for a loss and following a Cook incompletion, the Trojans were forced to punt.

Staring at 4:24 left on the clock, Chowan mounted a rally from their own 32-yd line.  Freeman picked up 13 yards on three carries before Chowan called timeout on fourth and four near midfield with 2:24 remaining.  Following the breather, Freeman broke through for 21 yards giving the Hawks the first down at the VSU 31-yard line.

Two quick Michael Offutt, Jr. carries left Chowan at the 29-yard line. That’s when Witt called his own number, scrambled off right side down to the 10, before his Carl Lewis-like hurdle that saw the ball come out upon his landing and sealed the Hawks’ fate. VSU recovered and ended the comeback.

“Sometimes the football gods don’t smile down on you,” shrugged head coach Tim Place, philosophically, after the game. “But we competed hard for 60 minutes and took the 17th-ranked team in the country down to the wire. But it is what it is, and now we’ve got one more game left, and we’re going to go get it done.”

“Yes, it hurts,” said disappointed senior defensive back Randy Allen. “This was my last time on this field, but we’re going to go get a win next week. The Hawks are going to be okay next season; you better look out for them.”

Chowan travels to Lincoln (PA) next Saturday, Nov. 4, to face the Lions in their final game of the season.