N.C. Central may have found a pair of future stars in blowout win

One year ago Chauncey Caldwell was playing high school football at Mallard Creek in Charlotte. He could have never predicted then that he would lead the three-time defending MEAC champion N.C. Central Eagles to their first win of the 2017 season.

That’s exactly what Caldwell, a true freshman who enrolled in January, did as the Eagles defeated Shaw 41-0 Saturday night at O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium. Caldwell didn’t enter the game until the fourth quarter with the Eagles nursing a 20-0 lead. A lead that thanks to penalties and miscues hardly felt like a one-sided affair. N.C. Central hadn’t fully taken complete control of the game. Enter Caldwell, who along with redshirt freshman Isaiah Totten, combined for 21 points in the fourth quarter.

Totten, who scored on a 25-yard run in the second quarter, added his second 25-yard touchdown run in the fourth for the final margin of victory. Totten finished the game with 66 yards on 11 carries to lead the Eagles in rushing for the second straight week. Totten, from Apex, said last week’s 81-yard touchdown run gave him confidence that he could play at this level, and it carried over to the game against the Bears.

“I feel like I can play at my full potential,” Totten said. “I don’t have to feel scared when it comes to running or second-guessing. I just know that I can play here.”

The second leading rusher was Caldwell, who finished with 63 yards on six carries and a 13-yard touchdown run. He also hit senior David Miller for a 14-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter and was a perfect 5-for-5 passing. Caldwell watched from the sidelines as starter Micah Zanders led the Eagles to that 20-point lead. But there were a couple of times when Zanders underthrew receivers, or couldn’t escape the rush from Shaw. Zanders was sacked twice, and N.C. Central, flagged 16 times for 155 yards, seemed to be stuck in neutral most of the night. Head coach Jerry Mack decided it was finally time for a change of pace.

“We knew we wanted to play Chauncey,” Mack said. “We were trying to stay with Micah as long as we could, we wanted to give him an opportunity to fight through some adversity. But we got to the point where we had to put Chauncey in there to give us a spark and that’s what he did.”

Mack said the team expected Totten, who he said had a “different gear,” to contribute this season. Mack wanted to create packages for Caldwell in the game plan. Caldwell, who worked his way up to the No. 2 spot during fall camp, got his feet wet at Duke last week, but really showed during his first home game that he could potentially be the guy moving forward. After the performance against Shaw, Mack said there is a chance the Eagles could use two quarterbacks. When his number was called in the final quarter against the Bears, he looked like he had been playing the entire game.

“I just wanted to go in and make my coach look good,” Caldwell said. “Coach stressed to always be ready when you’re number is called.”

Caldwell picked up 8 yards with his legs on his first touch and followed that with another 12 on the ground. He completed his first collegiate pass to Totten for a gain of 15 yards and on the next play he scored his first rushing touchdown. After the score, he showed his youth, spiking the ball and taking off his helmet, drawing an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty.

“It was a mistake on me,” Caldwell said. “I apologized to my coach and my team so it won’t happen again.”

But there was no question that behind the running of Totten and the energy of Caldwell, the team had new life.

“Chauncey gave us a big spark,” junior safety Davanta Reynolds said. “We always knew he had it in him, just from practice when he throws a touchdown or goes for a big run on us, we see how much life he gives the offense. I’m happy he brought some life to the team because we really needed it.”

The Eagles have a bye week coming up, then start conference play, hosting South Carolina State on Sept. 21. Mack will continue to evaluate the film and wasn’t ready to announce if either of the freshmen would be taking over moving forward. There was no denying they gave the team a lift against Shaw, and definitely proved they are deserving of more playing time this season. For now, they are just happy for win No. 1 and happy to contribute.

“That’s up to Coach Mack and Coach (T.C.) Taylor to determine who the guy is,” Caldwell said. “Until then I’m just going to keep grinding. If the opportunity presents itself, I have confidence in myself and my team.”

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