NCCU lost to Duke by 53. But that doesn’t mean the Eagles can’t win the MEAC.

Duke safety Dylan Singleton tackles NC Central wide receiver Jacen Murphy on Sept. 2, 2017.
Duke safety Dylan Singleton tackles NC Central wide receiver Jacen Murphy on Sept. 2, 2017. Getty Images

Nobody wants to lose, but the N.C. Central football team shouldn’t beat itself up too much after losing 60-7 in its season opener against Duke. The 0-1 start will be a good thing for the Eagles if it means the rest of the season will end up like coach Jerry Mack’s previous three in Durham.

With Saturday’s loss, Mack fell to 0-3 against Duke, and 0-7 all-time against FBS programs. During that same span, the Eagles have won 24 games in three seasons, gone 21-3 in the MEAC and have three conference championships.

After reviewing the film from the Duke game, Mack said there is as much talent on this team as he had in 2015 and 2016, and some stats show improvements from last season. The Eagles doubled their first downs against Duke, from 4 in 2016 to 8 last Saturday, and Mack singled out the play of linebackers Reggie Hunter (10 tackles) and De’Niro Laster (9 stops), stating how his team’s strength has improved over the years against the Blue Devils. The Eagles also scored their first touchdown against Duke under Mack.

Here’s how N.C. Central is moving forward, heading into its game Saturday against Shaw:

Twenty-four hour rule

The Eagles started this season at 6 p.m., Sept. 2 at Duke. Twenty-four hours later, after a walk-through and film session, it was time to put that game behind them, just like they’ve done in the past.

“The best way to get over something is to move on to the next thing,” Mack said. “Shaw is not going to feel sorry for us. So we put that to bed less than 24 hours after we played the game. When we left practice on Sunday, Duke was over with and we were moving forward to Shaw.”

Junior safety Davanta Reynolds said this group has the same mindset as previous championship teams he’s been around when it comes to moving on.

“The past is the past, so we just focus on one game at a time, and Shaw is the next game,” Reynolds said.

Getting back on the grass

For Mack, the most important thing after any loss is getting back to practice. N.C. Central does a light walk-through on Sunday, just to run the team a little bit and watch film, before taking Monday off. On Tuesday, the team hits the field for a full practice.

“The biggest thing is getting back on the grass,” Mack said. “When you get back on the grass, you correct your mistakes and get a chance to move forward and put that game behind us.”

The big picture

The Duke game, or any early-season contest against an FBS opponent, doesn’t make or break the season for the Eagles. Most years the early games are forgotten by the time N.C. Central gets into MEAC play. A MEAC championship can’t be won in week one, which means the Eagles are still right on schedule in their quest for their fourth consecutive league title.

“I think we see the bigger picture. All our goals are right there in front of us,” Mack said. “We still have a chance to play for The Celebration Bowl, we still have a chance to win the conference. It’s just about taking it one game at a time and see what the future holds. They learn a lot from the game just like they do in all the years.”

Jonas Pope IV: 919-419-7001, @JEPopeIV

How NCCU has fared after an early season loss to an FBS opponent

2014: Lost to ECU 52-7

The next week: Defeated Elizabeth City State, 34-7

Season: Finished 7-5, MEAC co-Champions

2015: Lost to Duke 55-0

Next week: Lost to Florida International, 39-14

Season: Went on seven-game win streak, finished 8-3, MEAC co-champions for second straight season

2016: Lost to Duke 49-6

Next week: Lost to Western Michigan, 70-21

Season: Finished season 9-3 after an eight-game winning streak, won MEAC outright for first time, lost to Grambling State, 10-9, in the Celebration Bowl

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