Two different quarterbacks led North Carolina Central on scoring drives in the fourth quarter to spark a 14-point comeback, as the Eagles defeated South Carolina State 33-28 to improve to 1-0 in MEAC play.
Naiil Ramadan, in his first action of the season, came on for an injured Chauncey Caldwell, threw a touchdown pass to Jacen Murphy in the fourth quarter to pull N.C. Central (2-1, 1-0) to within two, 28-26, with 8:10 remaining. On the next drive Caldwell returned and took just two plays to hit a wide-open Josh McCoy for a 38-yard touchdown, the second of the game for Caldwell.
N.C. Central’s defense held the Bulldogs to one score in the second half, after spotting the MEAC foes a 21-7 lead early in the second quarter.
N.C. Central’s defense struck first on the opening drive of the game. South Carolina State used eight plays to get into scoring territory and on second-and-5, the Bulldogs ran an option play to the short side of the field. Eagles junior safety Davanta Reynolds forced a fumble, picked it up and raced 85 yards for the score. It was the second forced turnover in as many games for Reynolds, who had an interception two weeks ago against Shaw.
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For a while that was the only good break for N.C. Central. Special teams play, particularly, was an issue for the Eagles. N.C. Central punted the ball to the Bulldogs on its second drive, but Jabari Nelson ran into Tra’Quan Dubose and was ejected for targeting. It only took SCSU three plays to make N.C. Central pay. Bulldogs quarterback Dewann Ford Jr. hit Kendall Cobb for a 20-yard score, tying the score at 7.
In the second quarter a blocked punt by SCSU linebacker Chad Gilchrist gave the Bulldogs the football on the NCCU 23. Ford capped that drive off with a 8-yard touchdown run. On the next drive, Ford found Quan Caldwell for a 26-yard touchdown giving SCSU a 21-7 lead.
Chauncey Caldwell took over at quarterback for NCCU late in the second quarter, giving sudden life to the Eagles offense. The true freshman from Durham led NCCU on a 9-play, 76-yard scoring drive. The Eagles didn’t record a first down on their previous three drives, but picked up five on the scoring drive. Caldwell ended the drive with a 27-yard pass to Jordan Fieulleteau to make it 21-14 in favor of SCSU at the break. N.C. Central’s touchdown was the first scored on the Bulldogs’ defense in seven quarters.
Eagles’ kicker Aedon Johnson connected on a pair of field goals in the third quarter (35, 45 yards) to pull N.C. Central to within one, 21-20. Johnson’s second field goal was set up when Eagles’ defensive end Randy Anyanwu forced a fumble that was recovered by Antonio Brown on the 28.
N.C. Central forced a three-and-out on South Carolina State’s first two drives of the fourth quarter after the Bulldogs moved the ball at will in the first half. The Bulldogs totaled 175 yards on their first five possessions, but only picked up 6 yards on first two drives after the break.