Defending MEAC champs visit NCCU primed for battle

Nov. 01, 2013 @ 11:21 PM

Bethune-Cookman will continue its defense of the 2012 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference football championship at N.C. Central’s O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium today (noon, ESPNews).

A potential wrinkle is that the Wildcats probably won’t know who’s starting at quarterback for the Eagles until just before kickoff.

NCCU redshirt freshman quarterback Malcolm Bell started last week at Savannah State in place of veteran Jordan Reid, who has been battling a lower-leg injury, NCCU interim coach Dwayne Foster said.

It was Bell’s first collegiate start, and he threw for 174 yards and a touchdown and ran for another score in a 24-10 NCCU road win. Foster said the young signal caller handled his business pretty well out there on the field.

That said, Foster insisted that a healthy Reid would start against Bethune-Cookman.

But after monitoring Reid in practice this week, Foster said a decision about the redshirt senior’s availability would be made around game time.

Both Reid and Bell are dual-threat quarterbacks, players who can make good things happen for the Eagles with both their arms and their legs.

Reid has a clear edge over Bell in terms of experience.

Yet Bell is rather hot right about now coming off the win at Savannah State, plus he looked good the week before when he got some fourth-quarter reps in an Eagles loss to Morgan State.

Morgan State had that game in the bag when Bell entered, but the quarterback’s moxie during a 68-yard drive that ended with a 5-yard touchdown pass had Foster fielding questions during postgame interviews about where things stood under center for NCCU going forward.

Regardless of who takes the snaps for NCCU, the Eagles (4-4, 2-2 MEAC) had better play at a high level for four quarters, otherwise Bethune-Cookman will sure enough beat them with their experience and physicality, Foster said.

The Wildcats (7-1, 4-0 MEAC) have been dominating the ball for 32:12 a game, the top team in the league in time of possession. They do that with the MEAC’s best rushing attack, grinding out 218 yards a game on the ground.

Bethune-Cookman, in fact, is No. 1 in the MEAC in both total offense (371.8 yards per game) and total defense (263.4 yards per game).

The Wildcats lead the MEAC with 12 interceptions, and Bell threw two in the Savannah State game.

On one of Bell’s picks, he targeted the right guy, but the ball was tipped, Foster said.

Bethune-Cookman is mighty, but not almighty, showing some vulnerability on special teams a week ago while giving up 84 yards on three S.C. State punt returns.

NCCU is third in the MEAC in punt returns and first in kickoff returns, with explosive sophomore Adrian Wilkins having returned two kickoffs and two punts for touchdowns this season.

Bethune-Cookman coach Brian Jenkins knows who Wilkins is.

“They do have some guys who can take it to the house, and they’ve got one or two guys who have already taken some kickoff returns and put returns to the house, so we’ve got our work cut out for us,” Jenkins said. “But we’ll be up for the challenge. We’ll make the necessary corrections that we need to make, and hopefully we can find a way to slow those guys down in that strong area.”

NCCU is a .500 team, but Jenkins said he’s not sleeping on the Eagles.

“We’re still hungry. We’re not satisfied,” Jenkins said. “We’re not claiming anything or crowning ourselves or nothing like that. It’s a lot of football left against some other good, hungry football teams. So the mood in the locker room is to continue to, as our young people say, grind.

“We’re preparing for another heavyweight fight.”

The Eagles and the Wildcats will scrap on national TV. The last time the Eagles got that kind of exposure, S.C. State embarrassed them 44-3, although Foster said that didn’t have anything to do with the stage being too big for NCCU.

“We didn’t play good football,” Foster said. “When you don’t play (good) football, you’re going to lose football games.”