The last five minutes of the North Carolina Central-Delaware State game had all sorts of drama. It was the type of game that fans love, but the kind of game that’ll age a young coach like Trie Oliver by 20 or 30 years.
In the end, Oliver’s Eagles found a way to pull out a close win, defeating the Hornets, 30-23.
NCCU (3-5, 2-2 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference) forced four turnovers, none bigger than a walk-off interception by Bryan Mills as DSU drove to tie the score.
Mills’ interception was the second of the game for the Eagles and the one that sealed the victory. The Hornets (1-7, 0-5) got the ball back at their own 48 with 37 seconds remaining and took five plays to get into NCCU territory.
With six seconds remaining, Mills picked off DSU freshman quarterback Tylik Bethea and ran out the clock. The Eagles turned three of the four Hornets’ turnovers into points, but the fourth interception of the season by Mills allowed the team to finally exhale and enjoy the home win.
“I had a lot of confidence in our guys because we’ve worked on those situations all throughout the week,” Oliver said. “We just had to make a play.”
The first big play came moments before the interception by Mills. After the Hornets tied the score at 23 with 50 seconds remaining, freshman Brandon Codrington took the ensuing kickoff 75 yards for a touchdown for the final margin of victory. It was the first kickoff return for a score for the Eagles since 2015.
NCCU wasn’t out the woods yet. The ensuing kickoff was short, giving DSU a short field to work with. In the past, this was a situation that would have bitten a young NCCU team, but Oliver said his group grew up in this game.
“I’m really proud because they kept fighting,” Oliver said. “That’s what they’ve done all year.”
Davius Richard threw for 174 yards and two scores, and the Eagles rushed for 174 yards as a team. NCCU got a nice cushion, scoring 16 points in the second quarter, but DSU made a late push, getting a late touchdown from Bizzet Woodley to make it interesting. Woody finished with seven catches for 99 yards but was denied by Mills on the game-winning attempt.
“We just played with eye discipline,” Oliver said. “Everybody handled their responsibility.”
In the first half, NCCU took advantage of two DSU turnovers to get an early jump on their opponent.
In the first quarter, the Hornets muffed a punt, and freshman Miles Cook recovered for the Eagles on the 48-yard line. Seven plays later Adrian Olivo connected on a 39-yard field goal. Stephen Stokes recovered a Delaware State fumble in the second quarter and that led to a 5-yard touchdown run by Isaiah Totten, giving NCCU a 10-3 lead.
The Hornets tied the score at 10 when freshman Tylik Bethea hit classmate Bizzet Woodley for a 28-yard score.
NCCU wasn’t done just yet. After forcing a DSU punt, the Eagles needed just two plays to cover 75 yards, with 74 of those yards coming on a Darius Richard-to-Treveyon Pratt touchdown pass. Olivo missed the extra point and the Hornets added a field goal for a 16-13 halftime lead.
Richard’s 74-yard touchdown pass to Pratt was the longest play from scrimmage for the Eagles this season. Richard’s previous long play was 45 yards. Pratt’s longest play this year was 10 yards.
The last time NCCU had a play cover more ground was a 93-yard pass play last season against Morgan State.
Redshirt junior running back Isaiah Totten has been the starter since his freshman season, and the Apex High graduate hit a major milestone Saturday. With a 21-yard run in the third quarter, Totten became the eighth player in school history to rush for 2,000 career yards. Totten came into the game needing 39 yards to reach the mark.
The NCCU kickoff unit gave up a long Corahn Alleyne return (64 yards) and then gave DSU a short field after Adrian Olivo missed on the final kickoff and it only went 10 yards or so, giving the Hornets a short field. DSU had six kickoff returns for 103 yards.
NCCU first-year coach Oliver started his coaching career at Delaware State as an assistant in 1999. Hornets coach Rod Mistead also served on the NCCU staff, as the offensive line coach in 2013.
4: NCCU forced four turnovers against Delaware State. The Eagles lead the MEAC in takeaways and came into the game tied for sixth in the Football Championship Subdivision.
6: Delaware State has now dropped six consecutive games in Durham.