Livingstone, JCSU ready for 125th Commemorative Classic

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 3, 2017

By David Shaw

SALISBURY — Four words regarding Saturday’s 125th Commemorative Classic at Alumni Stadium: Don’t Miss This Game.

The Livingstone-Johnson C. Smith season-ending matchup promises to be memorable, even if the participants are having seasons they’d rather forget.

“This weekend is about looking back and moving forward,” Livingstone coach Daryl Williams said, midway through Wednesday’s lively press conference. “It’s not like any other game. For this one, you can throw the records out the window because it’s going to be very, very competitive.”

For this one, you might as well. Livingstone (0-9, 0-6 CIAA) has a conference-high 27 turnovers — including three in last Saturday’s 28-26 near-miss against Fayetteville State. JCSU (1-8, 1-5) managed only four first downs and 75 yards total offense in its 24-0 loss at St. Augustine’s.

“We didn’t show up to play,” said Smith coach Kermit Blount. “We make no excuses. We’re just trying to figure it out.”

The Blue Bears did everything but win against FSU. Their offense rattled-and-burned with precision, collecting 30 first downs and 447 yards worth of offense. Only a late touchdown on a broken play prevented them from snapping a 12-game losing streak that dates to last season.

“We’re coming off a tough loss,” Williams said. “We’re still going to play hard. We want to send our seniors out the right way, so we’ll line up, try to execute for 60 minutes and see what happens after that.”

At stake is the Commemorative Classic trophy, a 20-pound monument that has resided in a J.C. Smith display case since the Golden Bulls outscored LC, 30-8, last Nov. 5 in Charlotte.

Smith leads the all-time series, 46-31, with three ties, since the rivalry launched on Dec. 27, 1892. JCSU — known as Biddle Memorial Institute until 1922 — prevailed, 5-0, that afternoon on Livingstone’s snow-blanketed front lawn. Livingstone Director of Athletics Andre Springs did some homework and discussed his not-quite-verified findings.

“Dr. W. J. Trent recovered a fumble inbounds and due to the snow slid out-of-bounds,” he told the amused gathering. “So, we actually won the game, but that’s the way the story went back then.”

Blount jokingly disputed that account, indicating “I’ve seen the film. And you’re wrong. But this is our history and we want to cherish it.”

And so the legend grows. Saturday’s contest will be a gala event that pits the CIAA’s two worst offensive teams. Despite last week’s garish numbers, Livingstone averages fewer than 16 points per game. Smith has put up a paltry 11.3 and ranks 12th in total yardage (204 per game).

“The mood on our team has been good the whole year,” Williams insisted. “We’ve had a lot of self-inflicted wounds that have caused us to be where we are. It is what it is. We’ve moved on from last week and expect to finish strong.”

Smith hopes to do the same. The Bulls dropped their first seven decisions and have lost three games by five points or less — 20-17 to Elizabeth City State, 27-22 to Winston-Salem State and 10-7 to Chowan.

“We’ve lost some close ballgames that we probably should have won,” Blount said. “This week, you’ve got two teams with deceiving records. Most people look at it from the outside in and see 1-8 and 0-9. We’re looking at it from the inside out. We both know where we should be.”

No matter what, the two schools will benefit by adding to their history. JCSU athletic director Steve Joyner, Jr. may have said it best when he proclaimed, “Think about it. This game is about our values, staff, students and alumni, propelling these two historically black universities forward to accomplish their mission. And that is to educate.”

NOTES: Smith’s lone victory was a 13-10 nod over Shaw on Oct. 21, decided when Brandon Howard kicked a 44-yard field goal with a minute remaining. … Livingstone’s Xavier Longerbeam has the CIAA’s ninth-best passer proficiency rating (100.4). Justin Ruffin is 13th among running backs with 399 yards rushing. … The Blue Bears have not had a winless season since going 0-9 in 2011.