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Livingstone needs win in Homecoming game today

By Dennis Davidson

dennis.davidson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Let’s face facts. Livingstone needs a Homecoming win over Fayetteville State today (1:30) at Alumni Memorial Stadium.

Coach Daryl Williams had several goals for his Blue Bears in 2015, one of which was a winning season — the school’s first in football in 17 years.

At 3-3, splitting the last two games of the season (today and next week against J.C. Smith) would leave Livingstone at 4-4, right at the .500 mark, but not considered by most to be a “winning season.”

One could argue that Livingstone is 5-3 right now, but the early games against Virginia-Lynchburg and Central International were ruled “non-counters” by the NCAA and the CIAA lists the Blue Bears at 3-3.

So a win today is imperative.

There is also the Homecoming factor as the Blue Bears have not won on this special day in well over a decade.

Another issue is Fayetteville State’s current 11-game winning streak against the Blue Bears. Most of the games have not been close, but the last two have: The Broncos won last year, 31-28, in two overtimes, and 34-31 in 2013.

Livingstone’s last victory in the series came on Nov. 11, 2003, at 28-27 thriller here in Salisbury.

Fayetteville State lead the all-time series between the schools, 33-17-2.

“We’re going to be ready,” said Williams. “We’re looking forward to a good football game and a good crowd. We need to win but we can’t make it bigger than it is. When you do that, you can get nervous and lose your focus.”

Williams saw some of that last week in the 23-21 loss to Winston-Salem State, another big game that eluded Livingstone. A win would have ended a long winning streak by the Rams and could have kept the Blue Bears in the running for a CIAA Southern Division title.

Livingstone took a 21-20 lead in the fourth quarter, but could not hold it, and kicker Leo Manzo’s 32-yard field goal attempt with 20 seconds remaining went wide right.

“Winston-Salem had drives where we just couldn’t get off the field,” said Williams. “Our linebackers were not dropping in coverage like they were supposed to and we lost contain, letting them get outside and around the corner too much. It’s simple — you can’t let the moment get too big … you still have to do your job.”

Williams believes that last week’s heart-breaker can only help the Blue Bears’ maturation process. He said his team has been chomping at the bit to “get back out there” and play better.

“When you’ve got a program that isn’t used to winning, any time they get a lead, there’s a tendency to think the game’s over,” continued Williams. “It’s my job to make sure we keep playing for 60 minutes, and we’ve made some progress there. We’re getting better and we’ve come a long way.”

Just like last week, on paper at least, today’s game looks like an even match between two good teams.

Fayetteville St. (4-4 overall and 4-1 in the CIAA) averages 31 points per game but allows 29. Livingstone is scoring at a 27.5 points per game pace and allows 24 points.

The Blues Bears rank third in the conference in total offense with 400 yards per game, while the Broncos are fifth with a 357-yard average.

Livingstone has been more balanced on offense, averaging 208 yards passing and 192 yards rushing. The Broncos rely on the pass more, throwing the football for 270 yards per game. They rush for just 87 yards per game.

The teams are pretty even when it comes to turnovers (LC 18, FSU 16) and red-zone efficiency (LC 78%, FSU 80%) but the Broncos have an advantage in one key category — penalties. FSU’s 53 penalties is the second fewest in the CIAA, while 70 for the Blue Bears rank 10th worst out of 12 teams.

Livingstone is playing for a winning season and a chance to end two long losing streaks. The Blue Bears may also want to make amends for last year at Fayetteville St.

After both teams scored seven points in the first overtime period, the Broncos kicked a field goal during their second possession.

Livingstone got backed up by a holding penalty on its second possession in overtime, but on fourth down, quarterback Drew Powell connected with Austin Higgins on an apparent winning 32-yard touchdown pass.

However, as the Livingstone players and coaches were celebrating in the end zone, it was ruled that Powell had crossed the line of scrimmage on his throw. The penalty wiped out the score and the game ended right there in FSU’s favor, 31-28.

“It was their Homecoming and people were all over the field — it was chaotic,” remembers Williams. “It was bad the way it ended.”

Fayetteville State is playing for a win that would set up a showdown next week at Winston-Salem St. If the Broncos win today and next week against the Rams, they would represent the Southern Division in the CIAA championship game on Nov. 14.

“It should be exciting,” said Williams. “We’ve just got to do our jobs. If you’re trying to make a play that’s not even there, and then the ball comes back to where you’re supposed to be, there’s going to be a big gain for your opponent. That happens every week in college football, not just here but all over the country at all levels.”

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