Key game for today for Blue Bears as old rival comes calling
By Dennis Davidson
SALISBURY — Even though Livingstone is 2-0 in the CIAA’s Southern Division, head coach Daryl Williams feels that the Blue Bears are lacking respect.
Last Saturday at Shaw, the Durham County Stadium scoreboard spelled out “Livingston.”
Livingstone has a chance to earn some respect here today at Alumni Memorial Stadium as it hosts long-time rival Winston-Salem State at 1 p.m.
Winston-Salem St. is also 2-0 in the division, but 3-4 overall and 3-1 in the CIAA, not the normal stellar records produced by the Rams.
In fact, Livingstone (3-2, 2-2) ranks ahead of the Rams in most offensive and defensive categories, including points per game (28.8 to 19.6) and total offense per game (412 yards to 296).
Still, there’s a feeling that the Blue Bears are the underdogs today, or at least, that’s what Williams is using for motivation for his team.
After all, WSSU has owned this series, which began in 1942. The Rams have won 37 of the 49 meetings between the two schools, including a current 12-game streak. Livingstone hasn’t won against the Rams since 1998, and that concluded a three-game win streak that started in 1996. The Blue Bears had their largest margin of victory in 1997, winning 41-7.
In addition to the Rams’ current streak, WSSU had a 19-game winning streak versus Livingstone in 1976-94. The two schools did not play in 2006-09, during WSSU’s years in Division I.
WSSU won last year, 34-17, and just three years ago in 2012, the Rams enjoyed their biggest victory in the series (58-0).
All of this is not lost on Williams.
“They are big, bad Winston and we’re just going to put our little team up against them and see what happens,” said a smiling Williams, maybe a little tongue-in-cheek. “No, we’re still the underdogs … we still haven’t gotten any respect from anybody, but until we beat the defending division champs, we haven’t taken the next step.
“We’re not supposed to be in this position, as the smallest school in the conference, but we’re going to line up, have some fun and count the score up at the end,” he continued.
Livingstone appears to have an edge at quarterback, with four-year starter Drew Powell at the helm, while the Rams have younger players leading their offense. Red-shirt freshman Rod Tinsley, a transfer from Gardner-Webb, starts at QB for the Rams. However, another freshman, Rashad Cooper, has also seen action at that position.
Tinsley has competed 53 percent of his passes for 781 yards, but he has as many interceptions as touchdowns (six).
Powell averages 187 yards passing and another 87 rushing, ranking in the CIAA’s top five in both categories. He’s the main reason Livingstone’s offense has clicked all season with the exception of the “mud bowl” on Oct. 3, a 41-6 home loss to Elizabeth City St.
Another senior, receiver Jalen Hendricks, continues to lead the conference with 34 for 459 yards in five games.
While on the surface, it appears that Livingstone is the Powell-to-Hendricks show, the Blue Bears actually rank second in the 12-team CIAA in rushing with 225 yards per game. After Powell, running backs Jarius Richardson (364 yards) and Latrell Flowers (144) lead the way on the ground.
WSSU has its own workhorse, running back Tyree Massey, who ranks sixth in the league in rushing with 532 yards on 113 carries. Massey had a career-high 164 yards on 20 carries last Saturday at St. Augustine’s. Return man Reggie Wilkins received CIAA honors last week with three outstanding punt returns, including one for 90 yards and a TD.
The Blue Bears escaped a 14-0 deficit last week to storm past Shaw, 41-22. A 98-yard fumble return by defensive end Armond Cox sparked the victory but the offense rolled as well.
“Once we scored our first touchdown, I told everyone ‘to just relax, there’s a lot of football left,'” said Williams. “It’s one thing to want it and be emotional at the start of a game, but it’s another to play with emotion and remember what you’re supposed to do. Some of the guys were just excited and missed some assignments early on.
“But I was pretty well pleased with the whole effort that we had against Shaw but of course, the stakes are raised a little against Winston-Salem State,” Williams continued. “We have to tackle better and sustain our blocks on the offensive line a little longer.”
Turnovers is one key statistic that favors the Rams, who have just 11 this season in seven games. Livingstone has been plagued by the turnover bug in past seasons and it has 18 in five games this year.
The good news is that the Blue Bears have just one turnover during the last two games — both wins.
“A few years ago, Winston-Salem had D-I players still there, so they were the dominant team,” added Williams. “But I think the make-up of the league now is a little more equal talent-wise. I’m more concerned about our team, though. If Drew makes good decisions, we take care of the football and the defense keeps everything in front of them, I like our chances.”
Note: WSSU lists three players from A.L. Brown on its roster — red-shirt freshman linebacker Kyrell Williamson, freshman tight end Johnathan Bryant and freshman defensive back Daveon Perry.