How did NC Central lose? The numbers don’t tell the whole story

North Carolina Central quarterback Naiil Ramadan breaks for a big gain against Norfolk State Saturday at O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium.
North Carolina Central quarterback Naiil Ramadan breaks for a big gain against Norfolk State Saturday at O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium. NCCU Athletics

Take a quick glance at the final stats and you would think N.C. Central dominated Norfolk State. Cover up the final score, just peak at the numbers, and the Eagles are 6-1, right?

N.C. Central outgained the Spartans 501-278. Time of possession, an 11:44 advantage in favor of the home team. Total number of plays: NCCU 90, Norfolk State 54. What looks like an offensive explosion for the Eagles is very deceiving.

The numbers, perhaps the most important ones, that killed N.C. Central was four – amount of turnovers – and 21, as in number of points the Eagles spotted the Spartans in the first half.

Norfolk State led 21-0 at the half, the first time N.C. Central has been shut out in the first half since the 2016 opener at Duke. That’s difficult for any team to overcome, and even though the Eagles made it interesting, scoring 21 points after the break, they were never able to tie the score. Norfolk State would hold on for a 28-21 win, its first victory over the Eagles since Nov. 4, 1995.

“We can’t spot somebody 21 points and expect to come back and win,” N.C. Central head coach Jerry Mack said. “Overall, we just did not show up to play. We got out-schemed, out-hustled, everything you can think of in the first half.”

The last time the Eagles loss a conference game was Oct. 3, 2015 to Bethune-Cookman. After that they ripped off 18 straight, dodging some potholes along the way. This time, for once, they couldn’t win despite themselves, something they’ve managed to pull off during that 18-game MEAC winning streak. But the Spartans (3-4, 3-1 MEAC) would have none of it, forcing four turnovers, including two interceptions in the second half, the final one by linebacker Kyle Archie to seal the deal for Norfolk State.

Long before Archie’s interception the Eagles never looked like themselves. They had 11 penalties in the first half, and finished with 15 for 146 yards. They’ve had games where they were flagged a bunch (16 versus Saint Augustine’s in September) and still won, and games where they’ve had a bunch of turnovers (five in a win over Savannah State last season) and still come out on top. This time, it finally caught up with them.

“Definitely,” Mack said. “You’re not going to win any football game when you decide to do those kind of things.”

Norfolk State freshman quarterback Juwan Carter torched the Eagles’ defense for 230 yards and four touchdowns. His favorite target was wide receiver Marcus Taylor, who caught eight passes for a career-high 132 yards. N.C. Central’s defense, the strength of the team, allowed Carter to hit seven different receivers, for a 12.8 average per completion.

Right from the jump, the Spartans had more energy on their sidelines, Eagles’ junior safety Davanta Reynolds said. Before N.C. Central blinked, the Spartans had a 21-0 lead, and the Eagles were a bit shell shocked.

“We had negative energy,” Reynolds said. “We were surprised on what they were doing, offensively and defensively, and how quick they were scoring. That’s probably why we were so (flat). We were just shocked, we didn’t expect that. Norfolk State probably didn’t expect that, but it happened.”

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