MURFREESBORO – A week ago, Chowan University head football coach Tim Place said if his team could avoid the mental mistakes, then they had a chance to make some real noise in the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA).
If that’s the case, Saturday you could’ve heard them all the way to Tennessee.
From a pick-six by the Hawks defense on the first play from scrimmage to the final horn, the Hawks smacked around previously unbeaten Bowie State to the tune of a 42-23 victory here at Garrison Stadium.
“It wasn’t a perfect game,” Place modestly admitted after the contest. “But we did what we needed to do.”
The win snapped a four game losing streak by Chowan to the Bulldogs; their first against BSU since 2013.
Despite being nearly doubled-up by Chowan on the scoreboard, Bowie, behind All-CIAA quarterback Amir Hall, racked up 16 more yards in total offense than the Hawks (444 to 428). Hall had his best passing day of the season in this game, throwing for 428 yards in the high-scoring affair.
The game featured a showdown of two of the more exciting quarterbacks in DII football. While Hall had the better numbers, Bryce Witt won the day though neither were as effective on the ground as they have been.
While Chowan had zero turnovers, their defense – despite surrendering so much offense to the Bulldogs – was still outstanding.
Jacquae Peart picked off Amir Hall on the first play from scrimmage and took it 36 yards for a touchdown and later he had five tackles. Marquise Baldwin picked off a pass and also added five tackles. Rafiq Abdul-Wahid blocked a field goal and Aaron Bullock forced a fumble while Connor O’Brien led the defense with 10 tackles.
“The pick-six was just such a strong momentum boost,” said O’Brien after the game. “From there we just kept telling each other to do your job.”
Offensively, Witt posted 252 yards and two scores on 18-of-28 passing as Paul Gooden caught three passes for both of Witt’s touchdowns.
Witt also racked up 29 yards on the ground as Tyrell Freeman led the rushing attack with 78 yards on 14 carries and two touchdowns. Imeek Watkins, normally a receiver, rushed for 48 yards on four carries and a touchdown; and at one point was leading his team in rushing. He also hauled in five catches for 79 yards.
“I was a running back in high school so I was familiar with the position,” said a grinning Watkins following the game. “The idea is to get the ball into the end zone.”
Bowie answered Chowan’s pick-six with a drive to the Hawks’ three-yard line, but the defense held the Bulldogs to a field goal that made it 7-3, Chowan.
On the next drive, Witt connected with Torry Baker for a 35-yd gain to put the ball into the red zone where Freeman later would punch it in from a yard out to push the lead to 14-3.
The Bulldogs countered with their first touchdown drive to get within a field goal at 14-10. But on Chowan’s next drive, Watkins would put the ball in the end zone three plays in on a 23 yard end around for the 21-10 lead with 2:14 remaining in just the first quarter.
With their high-powered offense, Bowie State kept hanging around and Hall engineered another drive that made it 21-16 before the end of the quarter.
“These were the top-two offenses in the CIAA,” reminded Witt. “For us, it was never a thought of whether we were beating the better offense.”
Chowan put together a scoring drive four minutes into the second quarter as the Hawks started at their own 13-yard line. Midway through the run, Watkins would take an end around for a 15-yard gain to the Bowie State 22. That’s where back-to-back 11-yard runs by Witt and Freeman ended in the end zone and put the Hawks up 28-16. It remained that way until the half.
Neither team was able to find the end zone in the third quarter as the Hawks lead remained at 28-16.
But Chowan’s drive to open the quarter re-ignited the scoring as Witt capped off a 15-play drive when he found Gooden wide open in the right side of the end zone to push the lead to 35-16.
The Hawks’ defense held firm once again, holding Bowie State to three-and-out. They eventually had to punt, giving Chowan the ball on their own 17-yard line following a 60-yd punt by the Bulldogs.
On this drive, Witt found Brian Hopper Jr. for a 29-yard reception to push the ball into Bulldog territory. Witt then dialed up Gooden again for a short 3-yard touchdown pass to push the advantage to 42-16 and the ‘Dogs were pretty much done.
Bowie State (4-2, 1-1, CIAA) would put a touchdown on the board late but the Chowan defense kept the Bulldogs from getting any closer and to the wild cheers of their crowd, had scored a 19-point victory.
“We spread it around a lot today,” said a smiling Chowan offensive coordinator Mark Hall. “I think Bryce is comfortable with that because he’s grown up with this same receiving group and he knows they have a lot of speed. They’ve all gotten better together.”
“We beat a good team out there today,” nodded Place toward the Bowie players silently leaving the field. “This is a good win for Chowan because everybody stepped up to make it a complete win.”
Chowan (2-3, 1-1, CIAA) hosts Virginia Union next Saturday, Oct. 13, at 1 p.m. as it will be the Hawks’ Homecoming contest against the Panthers.