A second-half switch at quarterback provided the spark the Elizabeth City State football team needed against Winston-Salem State on Saturday.
Tesean Jones, a junior transfer from Bluefield College, replaced freshman Chase Williams behind center to start the Vikings’ second possession of the third quarter and it was an immediate success.
Jones led ECSU to a 20-17 win over the Rams after the Vikings trailed 10-0 at halftime.
The home-opening win at Roebuck Stadium was the first victory of the Marcus Hilliard era.
“Just to see the resiliency of our team and not fold, coming out and making that adjustment at halftime able to get a win,” Hilliard said. “My first (win) as a head coach is always going to be memorable.”
Jones came into the game with 10:54 left in the third quarter and ECSU (1-2, 1-0 CIAA) at its own 20-yard line down 10.
On the fourth play of the drive, the left-handed quarterback started firing.
Jones completed passes on three consecutive plays for a combined 19 yards.
Another completion to Zion Riddick went 12 yards on third-and-1 to the Winston-Salem State 29.
Two plays later, Jones found Riddick for a seven-yard gain and then found Saunders wide open in the left side of the end zone for a touchdown.
Jones’ first drive of the season saw him complete all six pass attempts for 53 yards and get the Vikings within 10-7 with 3:44 left in the quarter after the 7:10 possession.
The ECSU defense, which had a big day, kept the momentum by forcing a three-and-out.
Jones’ second drive only garnered one first down before a punt, but again the Vikings defense returned the favor on the next Rams (0-3, 0-1 CIAA) possession.
ECSU only needed one play on offense the next time to take the lead.
Starting at their own 25-yard line, Jones hit Riddick for a left-side screen.
The preseason all-CIAA selection tightroped the sideline for about 20 yards before all of a sudden reversing course and going to his right.
Winston-Salem State’s defense couldn’t hold him as Riddick went all the way from the left sideline to the right sideline before ending up with a 75-yard touchdown play to put the Vikings on top 14-10 with 9:30 left in the fourth quarter.
“He’s special,” Jones said of Riddick. “All you have to do is put the ball in his hands, let him work and anything will happen.”
It was the last throw Jones had in the game as he finished 8-of-9 for 135 passing yards.
“(Jones) was a burst of energy for us,” Hilliard said.
After Riddick’s touchdown, the Rams and Vikings traded punts. Winston-Salem State had a second chance for a go-ahead drive with 4:35 to go 55 yards away from the end zone.
On third-and-3, ECSU sophomore Traevon Freeman stripped the ball away behind the line of scrimmage on a run play and his brother Raevon Freeman scooped the ball up and sprinted about 45 yards to end zone.
Just like that, the Vikings were up two possessions. A two-point conversion failed, but ECSU led 20-10 with 3:45 to go.
The Rams elected to make their own quarterback switch to begin the next drive with Richard Latimer replacing Jamier Slade.
Just like Jones and ECSU, the move immediately worked as completions of 27 yards and 17 yards put Winston-Salem State in position for a Jahtwan Stafford four-yard run to make it 20-17 with 1:55 left.
The Vikings recovered the onside kick and eventually had to punt the ball back with 24 seconds left. The 10-second play left the road team with 14 seconds and at their own 28-yard line.
ECSU prevented any miracles.
It was a solid day for the Vikings defense as they were able to keep ECSU in the game while the offense struggled early.
Winston-Salem State jumped on top early with a short Asa Barnes touchdown run for a 7-0 lead just 3:45 into the game.
But after that, the ECSU defense held firm.
The Vikings turned the ball over on downs in their first possession Saturday and the defense responded to the early touchdown by forcing a three-and-out on the next Rams drive.
After Williams, who went 3-for-10 for 22 passing yards, threw a pick that put the Winston-Salem State offense seven yards from a touchdown, ECSU held the Rams to a 23-yard field goal that made it 10-0 in the final minute of the opening quarter.
That defensive stop was highlighted by Juanya’ Majette stuffing Stafford on a third-and-goal play at the 1-yard line.
Both teams traded punts in the opening minutes of the second quarter before the ECSU offense survived a safety scare.
Fortunately for the Vikings, Williams, who was tackled in the end zone, was ruled down at the 1 due to forward progress.
They punted soon after that to give Winston-Salem State great field position at the 25, but again ECSU held the Rams to a field goal attempt.
This time, King came around from the left edge and got a hand on the football to block it and keep the game 10-0 with 5:41 left in the half.
ECSU forced two more punts to end the half as the Vikings’ deficit remained 10-0 after two quarters.
“We knew (Winston-Salem State) wanted to run the ball and we said, ‘You know what, we’re going to stop the run,’” Hilliard said. “Guys stepped up making plays.”
Majette finished with 16 tackles, while Traveon Freshwater had 13.
Offensively, King led the rushing attack with six carries for 57 yards and Riddick had 96 receiving yards on four catches. Saunders had five receptions for 49 yards.
ECSU heads to Shaw next week for the first of three straight road games.