Broncos edge Hawks in CIAA title tilt

Published 9:23 am Tuesday, November 15, 2022

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Special to the RC News-Herald

SALEM, VA – Chowan University’s season-long bold run to a CIAA Football Championship hit a tremendous pot-hole here Saturday as Fayetteville State University kicker Elton Andrew stunned the Hawks faithful with a 43-yard field goal into the wind that sailed through the uprights just as time expired giving the Broncos a 31-28 victory.

Chowan defenders Burnico Perofeta (left), Gabriel Colborn (center), and Jamae Blank (on the turf) combine to stop Fayetteville State quarterback Demari Daniels. Perofeta led Chowan’s defense with six tackles. Staff Photo by Cal Bryant

After four consecutive losses in the title game, Fayetteville State (9-2) snapped its skid to win the league crown for the first time in 13 years. Chowan (7-4) had been seeking its first title since joining the league in 2008.

“To start the season 0-2, and nobody really giving us much of a chance to be here, shows you how these kids have battled all season long,” said third-year Chowan coach Mark Hall. “The kids bought into what we asked them to do; it hurts to lose the way we did in the end. Hats off to Fayetteville State, but I’ll take my team any day of the week.”

Quarterback Rashad McKee led the offense with 266 yards passing on 23-of-31 tosses. He also picked up 36 yards on the ground and scored one touchdown; good enough to be named Food Lion’s CIAA Runner-Up Most-Valuable-Player.

Running back Nijere Peoples collected 65 yards rushing and scored three touchdowns; while receiver Demetrius Moore had six catches for 98 yards and teammate Malik Tobias added five catches for 98 yards, all part of a total of 424 yards of offense.

Bernico Perofeta led Chowan’s defense with six tackles, and defensive back Kmare Carey picked off a pass, his sixth interception of the year, breaking the school’s single-season record.

But the win also marked the fifth straight time the Broncos were victorious over the Hawks. The two teams met previously in inter-division action this season back on September 29 in Fayetteville with FSU prevailing 13-10, despite being outgained 413-181 by the visitors, thanks to the Broncos owning a 5-0 advantage in takeaways.

It was one such takeaway, the first of the game, that set up the Broncos first score.

After Chowan’s defense held on FSU’s opening drive, including a fourth-down stand, a Perofeta stop on 4th-and-three.

However, Chowan fumbled on what appeared to be a trick play, and it took just one Fayetteville play to find the end zone and a 7-0 lead four-and-a-half minutes into the game.

Chowan’s next drive stalled near midfield, as did FSU’s deep in their own territory.

But the third possession was the “charm” as McKee, with a couple of long passes to Moore, combined with a pair of Peoples runs, including the 11-yarder for a score and a 7-7 tie.

The Broncos quickly struck back. First with a 71-yard kickoff return followed by on pass into the end zone to re-take the lead, 14-7.

Not to be outdone, Chowan used four McKee passes, including a 43-yard completion to Tobias to get to the red zone; then McKee dashed in from five-yards out to knot the game once more, 14-14 ending the first quarter and 28 points worth of scoring.

On their first possession of the second quarter, Chowan consumed over seven minutes of game time as the Hawks mounted a clock-eating 14-play, 89-yard drive with six first-downs and surviving a sack and avoided losing a fumble at the FSU 18. They eventually reached the 11, where Peoples tacked on another 11-yard run for a score and Chowan’s first lead of the game, 21-14.

This trio of Chowan players console each other following Saturday’s last second loss in the CIAA championship game held in Salem, VA. Staff Photo by Cal Bryant

Hall next called for an onside kick which the Hawks recovered, but their drive stalled near midfield thanks to penalties, forcing a punt.

After an FSU punt, Chowan drove to the Broncos 24, only to have McKee picked off and the interception killed an opportune scoring chance, which left the Hawks holding their seven-point lead at halftime.

Chowan received the opening kickoff of the second stanza, and once again ate up more clock (seven minutes-48 seconds), but the drive stalled and the Hawks had to punt.

Both teams’ next drives went nowhere, but on their final possession of the quarter, FSU completed a 54 yard pass play for a score to even the game once again at 21-all headed to the fourth and fateful final fifteen minutes.

After a Chowan punt to open the fourth quarter, Carey stepped in front of an FSU pass at the CU 46 and returned it to the Bronco 16-yard line. However, a pair of penalties nullified the return and a 15-yard participation penalty backed the Hawks up to their own 31-yard line to begin the drive.

But Chowan didn’t let the good fortune slip away, driving 79 yards for Peoples’ third score of the game and another one-score lead at 28-21 with seven and a half minutes remaining.

But as the game entered its final five minutes FSU quarterback Demari Daniels led a scoring drive. Taking advantage of a kick-off return to near mid-field, Daniels made a couple of completions for 44 yards to the Chowan one-yard line where the Broncos capped the eight-play 55-yard drive with a one-yard keeper for a score from backup QB Caden Davis to even the score at 28-28 with less than five minutes left to play.

Chowan fielded the ensuing kick-off, but only ran it to the 10-yard line. Despite picking up a first down, the drive stalled and the Hawks were forced to punt with 2:19 left. On the punt, the Hawks were flagged for receiver interference and the 15-yard penalty set the Broncos up at the Chowan 47.

Fayetteville State took three plays to pick up a first down. Then came a Daniels completion to the Chowan 26 and another first down. After a four-yard run to the 22, depleting the clock down to five seconds remaining, Chowan called two time-outs in an effort to ‘ice’ the FSU kicker. Instead, Andrew coolly and calmly stroked through the game-winner as Chowan players fell to the turf in bitter disappointment.

“We had our chance to get some separation on the scoreboard and we didn’t,” lamented Hall after the game. “We let them hang around and in the end those missed opportunities caught up with us.”

“Hindsight’s 20-20,” added McKee. “We can always say we competed, we battled until the end. It’s been a long road, but we came together.”

To the credit of the Broncos defense, FSU only allowed one Hawks scoring drive in the second half. Four of Chowan’s final five drives ended with a punt.

“They just made more plays than us, it was just mistakes on our end,” said Hawks linebacker Montre Moore, an All-CIAA first-team selection; one of 12 all-league superlatives, most in school history. “I’ll go to war with these guys any day. We’re always comfortable in uncomfortable situations when things don’t go our way. We just have to live with the result.”

It was not the fitting end to a team that despite beginning the season 0-2 still fashioned a 6-1 run through the heart of some the CIAA’s best teams en route to the Northern Division championship.

“Losing hurts,” stated Hall. “But we’re going to attack every moment and every situation whether at home or on the road. We want to play good teams, hostile environments, and today we just came up short. We’re going to keep working until we get over the top.”