by Lut Williams
Black College Sports Page
Undefeated CIAA Northern Division champion Virginia State scored on its first three possessions to jump out to a 21-0 first quarter lead, withstood a third-quarter surge by Southern Division champ Fayetteville State, before putting away the Broncos late to post a 42-19 win in the CIAA Championship Game Saturday before a crowd 3,766 in Salem, Va.
VSU senior running back and CIAA Player of the Year Trenton Cannon showed his mettle, opening the scoring on VSU’s first possession with a 10-yard run and then breaking free for 73- and 79-yard scoring jaunts in the second half as the Trojans (10-0) pulled away.
The scintillating 5-11, 185-pound senior, considered perhaps the top HBCU pro prospect this season, finished with 186 rushing yards on 16 carries with three scores, 37 receiving yards and 88 yards in kickoff returns to total a championship-game record 311 all-purpose yards and the game’s MVP award.
VSU redshirt sophomore QB Cordelral Cook (13-23-0) passed for 169 yards and two scores and also scored on a 26-yard third quarter run among 70 rushing yards. FSU running back Stevie Green was named his team’s MVP after rushing for 144 yards (22 carries) and one TD.
It’s the Trojans' 12th CIAA championship, first since they defeated Winston-Salem State in the 2014 title game and first for second-year head coach Reggie Barlow.
“Honestly, we felt like we would be able to run the ball on offense,” said Barlow. “Everything starts with the running game for us. Trent did a good job, the offensive line did a really good job and Cook did a good job of managing the game. Defensively, they had a young quarterback (freshman Richard Latimer) that’s really going to be good but we felt like if we could get him to throw the ball it would work in our favor.
“They’re a really good team but our guys stood the test and were able to pull it out. We’re really happy and proud and excited to be CIAA champions.”
FSU’s Brandon Parker returned the opening kickoff 51 yards but Green fumbled on the first play from scrimmage that was recovered by VSU’s Kurtis Brooks on the FSU 47. Seven plays later Cannon went in from 10 yards out for the game’s first score. VSU stopped the Broncos on a 3-and-out and took over on their own 20 following a punt. On the third play of the series, Cook hit wideout Zachary Parker down the right sideline who eluded a defender to go 84 yards to paydirt.
The Broncos (6-5) drove into field goal range in their next possession but placekicker David Lamb’s 43-yard attempt was blocked putting the Trojans in business at their own 43. They needed six plays to score getting in as Cook connected with Joshua Harris from 5 yards out. VSU put up 250 first-quarter yards while building the 21-0 lead.
The game started to turn around in the second quarter as FSU finally started to slow down the VSU attack, limiting it to -2 second-quarter yards. Neither team scored in the second quarter.
“We came into today’s game knowing that we had to stop the run,” said second-year FSU head coach Richard Hayes. “That was our main focus. They did a great job in the first quarter of throwing it over our head, finding a weak spot in the defense. We came into the game changing up a few things, loading up the box to make them throw the ball. For the most part it was very effective. We made them punt eight times and that had not been done to them before.
“There were blown assignments on both runs,” Hayes said of Cannon’s long TD runs. Without those runs, Cannon totaled 39 yards in 14 carries . “He’s fast enough that if you give him a crease, he’s going to hit it hard and he’s going to score. We don’t have anybody on our defense that can catch him. And we know that.”
FSU scored on its first second-half possession as Latimer hit wideout Curtis Burston with a 37-yard scoring toss to pull within 21-7. The Trojans got a 26-yard scoring run from Cook to go back up 28-7 before Green took it in from 15 yards to cut the lead to 28-14 with 5:35 left in the third quarter.
That’s when Cannon took over.
“We’ve had 25 (pro) scouts come see him,” said Barlow, who had an eight-year career as a receiver in the NFL and was the former head coach at Alabama State. “At Alabama State I had (a 1,000-yard rusher) named Malcolm Cyrus and I had the No. 1 running back in the entire United States in Isaiah Crowell (now with the NFL’s Cleveland Browns). This kid (Cannon) can play. I played in the league (NFL) eight years, I’ve seen outstanding running backs. I know what the package is for an NFL running back. Trenton’s a guy that can play in that league.”
VSU, ranked third in Super Region II in NCAA Div. II, will await its seeding and pairing in the national playoffs to announced Sunday at 4 p.m. Seven teams from each of Div. II’s four regions will make the 28-team playoff field. Play will begin next week.
Bowie State (9-1), who finished behind VSU in the CIAA North, was ranked fifth in Super Region II and is also expected to receive a playoff berth.