SALISBURY — Running back Justin Forte came to Livingstone via the scenic route — high school in Rochester, N.Y., followed eventually by junior college in Los Angeles — but last Saturday he was all about moving in a straight line.
Livingstone did something in a 35-7 win at Lincoln that it really hasn’t done since the Blue Bears were good in the 1990s. LC ran the ball right down an opponent’s throat. Forte was the spearhead, 34 workhorse carries for 126 yards.
Livingstone coach Daryl Williams is a calm, measured guy who’s devoted to a building process, but he was excited about Saturday’s breakthrough on the ground. Livingstone entered the Lincoln game ranked 11th out of 12 CIAA teams in rushing but exited it eighth.
“Forte is my first 100-yard rusher,” Williams said proudly. “There was a drive in the fourth quarter where we imposed our will. We were physical. We kept the ball with our running game a long time, and then we capped that drive with a touchdown pass.”
That bruising drive provided the signature moments in the game. The Blue Bears took it 99 yards following a goal-line stand and burned nearly eight minutes off the clock.
“We really worked hard in the running game Saturday,” Forte said. “You have to give most of the credit to our offensive line. They stayed for extra reps during the week to prepare, and they did a great job. It was mostly inside runs with man-to-man blocking. I just followed those guys.”
Livingstone, which used to be throw-it-around Livingstone is working hard to establish a new identity. The Blue Bears ran the ball 54 times Saturday, believe it or not. They moved the chains 14 times on runs.
New offensive line coach Brian White is an important addition to the program. He played on national-championship teams at Youngstown State, and he’s a believer in the ground game and the concept that the more physical team will usually win.
Credit White also with recruiting Forte.
“I heard of Livingstone for the first time in April,” said Forte, a solidly built 5-foot-8 guy with 4.5 speed. “Coach White told me this would be my best opportunity, and it’s worked out for me. It hasn’t been hard to fit in here at all.”
Forte is one of a number of junior-college additions who have helped Livingstone become competitive in a hurry.
“What we were able to offer the junior-college guys was a chance to play right away,” Williams said. “We brought them in to help us get over the hump, and they are doing it. Forte really wants to be here, and you have to have guys who really want to be here. He’s accepted a role.”
The Blue Bears haven’t won three games in a season since 2003, but they could accomplish that step in the process when they host Virginia Union Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. Livingstone is 2-2 for the first time since 1999.
Williams is a fan of slogans, and he produced a Michael Jordan quote about individual recognition being a product of team success. Achieve as a team, and individual accolades always take care of themselves.
Proof came Saturday. The Blue Bears don’t get a lot of CIAA awards, but after the Lincoln win, Forte’s effort got noticed. He’s the CIAA Offensive Back of the Week.
Forte doesn’t plan to rest on that laurel. He expects to keep moving forward.
See Saturday’s edition for a Livingstone-Virginia Union preview.