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College football: Blue Bears stumble to the end

By David Shaw

david.shaw@salisburypost.com

CHARLOTTE — They say happy endings are a tricky business. Livingstone found out the hard way Saturday.

After winning their first four games this season, the shorthanded Blue Bears closed it with a third straight loss when they fell 31-14 at Johnson C. Smith in the annual Commemorative Classic.

“This is the story of our season,” coach Daryl Williams said. “We had our chances. In every game that was close, we had our chances. But we’d fumble the ball or throw an interception and find a way to lose.”

Livingstone (5-5, 2-5 CIAA) is still looking for its first winning season since 1998.

Livingstone lost three fumbles in the second half against Johnson C. Smith (3-7, 2-5), which closed its season on a two-game winning streak. Most critical was quarterback Drew Powell’s giveaway at the Smith 1 with 10:15 remaining.

“The second half of the season was very humbling,” said Powell. “We had chances to win every game. It’s just a matter of making a play when you have to.”

The junior passed for 195 yards, ran for 126 and was sacked six times

The Blue Bears’ defense made several plays, but it was victimized by short fields. It recorded back-to-back goal-line stands in the third quarter and forced the Golden Bulls into a field goal following another drive to the Livingstone 5.

“It’s disappointing because we had this team beat,” all-conference linebacker Kenneth White said. “We played well. We just needed a little more help.”

Powell did his part in the opening quarter. Even without injured receivers Jalen Hendricks and Brandon Bennett, he steered the Blue Bears 89 yards in 16 plays for the game’s first touchdown. Livingstone converted three fourth-down plays on the drive. The score came when sophomore Kemuel Brown — subbing for sidelined Justin Forte — caught a 39-yard pass from Powell on a fourth-and-22 snap late in the first period.

“That was good play-calling by (Williams),” Brown said. “We were in a hurry-up and he knew their defense wasn’t set up right. He re-arranged the receivers and called the right play.”

Brown contributed 118 yards on seven receptions and another 72 on seven rushes

The lead stuck until J.C. Smith navigated 48 yards in six plays and tied the score when starting quarterback Andrew Alexander hit Fred Scott with a 22-yard TD pass in the second quarter. Scott finished with three touchdown catches and was named Smith’s MVP for the game.

“Fred is a difference-maker,” said winning coach Steve Aycock. “He told me his brother, who plays high school ball in Georgia, scored two touchdowns (Friday) night. He said he had to get at least two to save face.”

Scott’s second came with just 18 seconds to go in the first half. This time reserve quarterback Keahn Wallace rifled a short sideline pass to Scott, who juked two Livingstone defenders and turned the play into a 22-yard TD. The Blue Bears knotted the score 14-14 four minutes into the third quarter when Powell capped a 75-yard drive with a 2-yard touchdown burst.

“That was the frustrating part,” Williams said. “We matched this team blow-for-blow. But in the end you’ve got to find a way to win the football game.”

Livingstone never did. Johnson C. Smith parlayed a fumble recovery at the Blue Bears’ 10 into a 22-yard field goal late in the third quarter, then went up 24-14 when Wallace found Scott alone in the end zone on an 18-yard TD with 13:35 remaining. On the ensuing possession, Powell moved the Blue Bears from their own 13 to the gates of the end zone, where he lost the ball on a hard hit by safety Frantz Charles.

“I started out going left, then cut back,” Powell said. “Then I got right there and got hit. Someone put his helmet right on the football and it just popped out. It just happened.”

As the ball fell to the ground, it took Livingstone’s shot at a winning season with it.

“I’m still happy,” Williams said. “It’s a sad ending, but I’m happy we’re 5-5.”

Perhaps White — the senior who hopes to be playing somewhere next fall — had the best summary.

“Look at everything we did this season,” he said. “It was building block for the program. Livingstone won’t be picked to finish last (in the CIAA) next year.”

NOTES: Johnson C. Smith has won its last six meetings with Livingstone. … Brown, a Statesville native and graduate of North Iredell, was named Livingstone’s team-MVP. … The Blue Bears finished the season with 32 turnovers. … Williams is one of five finalists for the conference Coach of the Year award.

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