ECSU strug­gles in home-opener against UNC Pem­broke



By Craig Moyer
Sports Writer

Sunday, September 10, 2017

From the first play to the last, things just did not go the Vikings way in their home opener against UNC Pembroke on Saturday afternoon, as Elizabeth City State fell 66-14 at Roebuck Stadium.

ECSU (1-1) received the opening kickoff and the Vikings offense led by senior quarterback Daquan Neal looked to get off to a strong start.

Neal dropped back on the first play and delivered a perfect throw to Brandon Flint for what looked to be a well executed first play, but Flint fumbled the ball and the Braves recovered.

UNCP (1-1) was not able to take advantage of the great starting field position on their opening drive and had to settle for a 32-yard field goal by Nate Williams, giving the Braves an early 3-0 lead.

The Vikings’ offense continued to struggle throughout the first quarter, as their only first down in the opening 15 minutes came on a defensive pass interference call.

The Braves’ offense got off to a slow start, but quickly got things moving late in the first quarter when quarterback Dominick Samson connected with JoJo Spann for a 31-yard gain, followed by a 25-yard run by Miles Grant to the 10 yard line.

Two plays later, Josh Sheridan punched it in for a 5-yard touchdown right up the middle to give the Braves a 10-0 lead and their offense would remain hot for the final three quarters.

After a 16-yard touchdown run by Brian Staton and a 20-yard touchdown pass from Guill to Ronald Porter, the Braves held a 24-0 lead halfway through the second quarter.

Sometimes when an offense is struggling, they just need a bounce to go their way in order to get things started.

After picking up a pair of first downs through the air, the Vikings entered the Braves’ territory at the 40 yard line, then a deep throw from Neal was deflected by a Braves’ defender and bounced right to David Watford who walked in for the score.

Watford was one of eight receivers to catch a pass from Neal on the afternoon, as the senior quarterback finished 14 for 24 with 196 yards and two touchdowns, but was also intercepted three times on the day.

The Vikings also coughed the ball up for times on the ground, bringing their turnover total to seven, while the Braves committed no turnovers on the afternoon.

The teams traded touchdowns on the next three drives and ECSU found themselves trailing 38-14 heading into the locker room.

After forcing the Braves’ offense into a three-and-out to open the second half, the Vikings offense took the field looking to cut into the lead early in the third quarter.

On the second play of the drive, Neal was sacked and fumbled the ball, which was picked up by UNCP linemen Alpha Lamin, who took the recovery 25 yards to the end zone, all but ending the Vikings hopes for a second-half comeback.

The score was the first of two by the Braves’ defense, as Bikembe Kearney intercepted a pass early in the fourth quarter and returned it 43 yards for a score to give UNCP a 66-14 lead.

After ECSU scored their second touchdown of the game with just over two minutes left in the second quarter, UNCP rattled of 35 unanswered points throughout the final 32 minutes of the game.

Aside from winning the turnover battle seven to zero, another key to the Braves’ big win was their balance on offense.

Seven players ran the ball for the Braves for a combined 253 yards, led by Grant with 95 yards on eight carries and one touchdown, while Staton finished with two scores on the ground and Josh Sheridan added a rushing touchdown.

Twelve different UNCP players caught a pass in the game, as Aaron Whitaker and Jalon Nixon also caught touchdown passes from Guill, who finished 15 for 26 with 187 yards and three touchdowns.

ECSU only managed 38 yards in their ground game on 34 attempts, led by Deshon Saunders, who finished with 23 yards on six attempts.

Vikings linebacker Micah Cooper led all defenders in the game with 12 tackles, including 10 solo tackles and a forced fumble.

The Vikings return to action September 16 as they travel to Rocky Mount for the 20th-annual Down East Vikings Classic against Fayetteville State at 4 p.m.