Eagles aim to reverse fortunes Saturday vs. Division II Falcons
N.C. Central and Saint Augustine’s have some history between them, as Saturday’s matchup in O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium (2 p.m., nccueaglepride.com) marks the 30th meeting of the teams.
NCCU has dominated the series with the visiting Falcons 26-2-1, and a good bit has changed since the teams last met, seemingly toward the benefit of the Eagles.
Several seasons ago at O’Kelly-Riddick, NCCU beat Saint Augustine’s 6-0. The year was 2007, before Saint Augustine’s elevated its institutional profile from college to university, and it was during that time when NCCU began transitioning to Division I.
The two schools battled for on the fields and courts of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association, with NCCU winning the 2005 and 2006 CIAA football championships in its’ final years at the Division II level.
NCCU has been playing Football Championship Subdivision ball in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference since 2011, affording the Eagles more scholarships for talented players than Saint Augustine’s coach Michael Costa can acquire.
The NCAA allows 63 football scholarships for FCS teams, 36 for Division II squads.
Costa, into his 12th season as Saint Augustine’s coach, isn’t using any of that to make excuses, instead recalling what he referred to as “a neighborhood brawl” that used to go down when the Falcons and Eagles got together on the football field.
“It becomes a very competitive game,” Costa said. “You throw out the divisions at that time, because it’s almost like you remember they were a part of us at one time.”
As divisions go, NCCU felt the physicality of a more brawny Duke team that beat the Eagles 45-0 on Saturday.
NCCU interim coach Dwayne Foster said the Eagles held their own in spots but were overmatched in the trenches, as Duke’s linemen won the battle at the line of scrimmage.
Don’t judge the Eagles by that weekend blowout, Costa said.
“They’re a solid football club,” Costa said. “You can’t take that one game and take away how good they are. They’re a good football team.
“If a few things had happened a little differently, who knows? We may be talking about Central having beaten Duke on Saturday.”
Duke plays on the higher-profile Football Bowl Subdivision level, where teams are allowed 85 scholarships.
“When you start looking at the different divisions and what one has as far as resources, that may be the difference,” Costa said. “Duke is in the ACC and they’ve done a lot to improve, and I know Coach (David) Cutcliffe has really built up his program.”
Cutcliffe has crafted a team that is respectable on game days, works out in a nice, indoor facility on practice days and went to a bowl game this past season, all of that attracting talent, Costa said.
“I don’t know if you want to say it’s a talent gap,” Costa said, comparing Duke and NCCU. “Both teams have talent, and both teams play football.
“(NCCU) ran into a buzz saw on Saturday, and it just was not their day. They lost a lot of key people from last year. I thought last year they played them a lot tougher.”
A year ago, Duke beat NCCU 54-17.
NCCU is a deeper team than Saint Augustine’s, but the Falcons have comparable talent at certain positions, Costa said.
Foster said NCCU won’t necessarily have its way with Saint Augustine’s in the same manner that Duke took it to the Eagles.
“I’m not quite sure we’re going to look at it as we’re going to handle them,” Foster said. “We just want to come out and handle our corrections and fix what we do as it relates to Saint Aug’s.”