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College Football: Blue Bears face toughest challenges

SALISBURY — Livingstone owns five wins and won’t have a losing season.

The  Blue Bears (5-2, 2-2 CIAA) beat Shaw a week ago, overcoming four turnovers to pull out a 21-20 decision.

“We took it to a team that has bullied us in the past,” coach Daryl Williams said. “So it was as satisfying a victory as we’ve had.”

Livingstone has managed its satisfying record despite 24 turnovers, a figure that puts the Blue Bears close to the bottom of the nation’s 167 DII programs. Livingstone is minus-8 in turnover margin. The Blue Bears are tied for 146th in that category, but the Livingstone defense has bailed out the team in tough situations a lot more than it gets credit for.

“People have asked me all year what I’m going to do about our defense,” Williams said. “I’m proud of our defense. With all the turnovers we’ve had, our defense has given us a chance to win.”

Livingstone only had four home games this season and went 3-1, a huge improvement over the 2013 season when the Blue Bears went 3-7 and failed to win at home.

The Blue Bears are on the road the rest of the way. They are at Winston-Salem State on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. and will be big underdogs against a team ranked 15th nationally by the American Football Coaches Association. Winston-Salem (6-1, 4-0 CIAA) sits on top of the HBCU Division II poll. It’s only loss came at the hands of perennial power Valdosta State (Ga.). Livingstone is ranked seventh in the HBCU poll.

Winston-Salem State breezed through its first three CIAA games, including a 77-point outing against Chowan, but the Rams had a tougher tussle with homecoming guest St. Augustine’s last week. That one was 26-13 heading to the fourth quarter, but the Rams pulled away to win 36-13.

Winston-Salem State has no shortage of talent, including two excellent quarterbacks. Rudy Johnson, whom Williams coached when they were both at Texas Southern, is the veteran. Phillip Sims, who has played at Alabama and Virginia, is the new guy and threw three touchdown passes last week.

“They’re the top dog in our league,” Williams said. “We have a big task ahead of us. They’re an older, stronger team and they have an outstanding defensive line.”

Livingstone’s friendly schedule has been helpful in accumulating wins. Livingstone victims Virginia-Lynchburg and Millersville remain winless. Paine is 1-6. Even Bowie State and Shaw, the two biggest names the Blue Bears have beaten, are both 2-5.

Weak schedule aside, the Blue Bears’ experience in close games gives them an advantage.

“Winston-Salem State’s games have been over going to the fourth quarter,” he said. “We’ve pulled out a lot of close games. We know how to win. So let’s keep it close until the fourth quarter and see what happens. Let’s see how they react.”

The last time Livingstone beat Winston-Salem State was in 1998. The Blue Bears won three straight in the series in the late 1990s, but Winston-Salem State has 11 straight wins over Livingstone. The last four contests were ugly — 58-0, 63-6, 58-0 and 40-0 — although Livingstone competed for a half last season.

If they can avoid turnovers, the Blue Bears may be able to compete longer than a half Saturday.

“We’ve played just one clean half without a turnover all season, and we scored 24 points in that half,” Williams said. “If we play turnover free, there’s no telling how good we can be.”

Mike London: 704-797-4259; twitter.com/
mikelondonpost3

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