BAT­TLE OF THE UNBEATENS AT VSU’S HOME­COM­ING

Pre­view­ing the Tro­jans’ home game ver­sus Bowie State

The Progress-Index - - FRONT PAGE - Ni­cholas Van­de­loecht Staff Writer

ET­TRICK - This could be the game.

The game that de­ter­mines who rep­re­sents the North in the CIAA ti­tle game.

Two unbeatens will col­lide on the grid­iron of Rogers Sta­dium at Vir­ginia State Uni­ver­sity. The VSU Tro­jans are 5-0. The Bowie State Bull­dogs are 6-0.

The Tro­jans want to grow their win­ning streak at their home field to seven straight games.

Oh, and by the way, it’s Vir­ginia State’s Home­com­ing Game.

“Games like this is why you sign up to play foot­ball and coach foot­ball,” said VSU head coach Reg­gie Bar­low.

The Tro­jans are en­joy­ing their first 5-0 start to a sea­son since 1993.

“We’ve been blessed with some amaz­ing stu­dent-ath­letes. We do have a good group of guys. They’ve bought into the vi­sion of what we wanted this 2017 sea­son to be about,” Bar­low said. “Our coaches [in­clud­ing Mark Car­ney, Dwone San­ders, Ver­non Dean, Bran­don Kirk­sey, Aaron Mehl and Alex Stadler] have done a good job of com­mu­ni­cat­ing the plan and what we want to get done.”

The Tro­jans set the tone for 2017 by stun­ning their ri­val, Di­vi­sion I team Nor­folk State, 14-10. They also tri­umphed in over­time, 33-27, against two-time de­fend­ing CIAA Cham­pion Win­ston-Salem State.

“Hav­ing that ex­pe­ri­ence of play­ing in a tough, hard-fought game for four quar­ters and even­tu­ally over­time, ob­vi­ously they’re able to show that they can work through some­thing,” Bar­low said of his Tro­jans. “They’ve been able to over­come ad­ver­sity and still find a way to win.”

Vir­ginia State’s great run to open the 2017 cam­paign isn’t all that sur­pris­ing when you con­sider last year’s suc­cess - the Tro­jans

fin­ished 9-2 in Bar­low’s first year at the helm.

But that year, they were stacked with play­mak­ers on both sides of the ball - Tar­ian Ayres, Geo Feg­gins, Kavon Bel­lamy and Trevon By­ron among them.

“I knew those guys were a big part of the team last year, and I knew that we were gonna lose them,” said Vir­ginia State run­ning­back Trent Can­non, who’s a se­nior this year. “But also I knew that we had guys that can re­place them.”

Can­non also helped lead the charge in 2016. He came back, and he’s been on fire, av­er­ag­ing a CIAA con­fer­ence-lead­ing 125 yards and one rush­ing touch­down per game this sea­son.

“He runs the ball well. He runs hard when he has the ball, he catches the ball well, but he’s also been great at pro­tec­tion for us,” Bar­low said of Can­non. “Then there’s some times we use him as a de­coy where we mo­tion him out and try to get the de­fense fo­cused on him and get the ball to some­one else.”

“I love hav­ing him in the back­field with me,” VSU quar­ter­back Cordel­ral Cook said of Can­non. “That makes my job a lit­tle eas­ier. [Op­po­nents have] got to pick their poi­son. They’ve ei­ther got to watch me or watch him.”

Can­non also had the touch­down that helped tie the Tro­jans’ game ver­sus Win­ston-Salem State, set­ting up an over­time sit­u­a­tion from which VSU emerged tri­umphant.

“I knew I was gonna score,” Can­non said. “Noth­ing in my head told me that I wasn’t gonna score, so I just had faith I was gonna score that play...”

VSU’s O-line has­paved the way for the Tro­jans to av­er­age 453 yards of total of­fense per game - sec­ond in the CIAA con­fer­ence.

“Our O-line is young, but the guys are con­stantly get­ting bet­ter,” Bar­low said. “Coach Stadler, our of­fen­sive line coach, has done a good job with them.”

A team goes as their leader goes, and Cordel­ral Cook, by the num­bers, is thriv­ing in his first full year in the start­ing QB po­si­tion at VSU.

“Cook’s a great ath­lete,” Can­non said. “He can pass, he can run and the de­fense don’t know what to ex­pect.”

Cook leads the Tro­jans in total rush­ing touch­downs with eight. It was his two trips to the end zone that ul­ti­mately made the dif­fer­ence in the Tro­jans’ vic­tory over Nor­folk State.

“I feel like that win was huge for us, but we just take ev­ery game the same,” Cook said. “I feel like it was a mo­men­tum builder for the sea­son since it was a D1 team and we’re a D2 pro­gram.”

Cook’s long­est run of the sea­son came on a zigzag­ging 76-yard scorcher of a touch­down against Win­ston-Salem State. He started lean­ing to­wards the right on the play, but then cut across the en­tire width of the field, dash­ing down the left side­line to score.

“My gen­eral rule is to go out of bounds, but when I’d seen no­body was at­tack­ing me, I was like, ‘I might as well just go ahead,’” Cook said.

“We knew of his abil­ity as a quar­ter­back - I just think it’s taken some time to grow men­tally, phys­i­cally and un­der­stand the sys­tem,” Bar­low said of Cook. “Now, his ath­letic abil­ity, he’s able to show it be­cause he’s been in this sys­tem for two years, he’s been in col­lege for three years, and it’s all come to­gether for him.”

It’s been a sea­son where sev­eral play­ers have been step­ping up and mak­ing plays, from Can­non to Cook to wide re­ceiver Zach Parker to de­fend­ers Bran­don Lynch, Malik Sex­ton and Michael Har­ris.

Vir­ginia State’s de­fense con­tin­ues to dom­i­nate up front, al­low­ing 12 points a game and a stingy 81 rush­ing yards per game to lead the CIAA in both cat­e­gories. The Tro­jans have given up just two run­ning touch­downs through five games played.

“Last year we had some in­di­vid­u­als that were out­stand­ing and got a lot of recog­ni­tion,” Bar­low said. “But this de­fense, it’s fit­ting to­gether as a unit. The front seven are solid guys, they know what gap they’re sup­posed to be in. It’s all about gap in­tegrity with our de­fense.”

For the Tro­jans on Satur­day, stop­ping the pass­ing game in ad­di­tion to con­tin­u­ing their dom­i­nance against the run will be key. They’ve been suc­cess­ful, hold­ing teams to 174.2 pass­ing ypg and five touch­downs total. The sec­ondary fea­tures cor­ner­backs Shakym Peters and Lo­gan Oce - “two guys that are play­ing the game the way you’d like them to play it,” Bar­low said - as well as safeties Will Adams and Tre’Var­ius Brooks.

“Our sec­ondary has been solid and com­ing up and mak­ing tack­les,” Bar­low said. “We ask those guys to do a bunch in the pass­ing game, but also to be good in the run­ning game as well...”

This Satur­day, they’ll face the #1 passer in the con­fer­ence. Bowie State quar­ter­back Amir Hall leads the CIAA with 330 ypg and 24 touch­downs through the air. Bran­don Brit­ton has been his top tar­get, as Brit­ton leads the con­fer­ence in re­ceiv­ing with 90 ypg and nine touch­downs. BSU wide re­ceiver Lansana Se­say sits sec­ond in the CIAA with 88 ypg and five TDs.

“It’s gonna be a tall task, but we’ll prac­tice some stuff here lead­ing up to the game, kind of what we do for all ath­letic quar­ter­backs ... mak­ing sure our de­fen­sive line­men un­der­stand the rush­ing lanes and not rush­ing too far up-field,” Bar­low said.

Bowie State’s also had the de­fense to back up their high-pow­ered of­fense. In CIAA play, they sit sec­ond be­hind Vir­ginia State in points al­lowed (14 ppg) and rush­ing yards (141 ypg). They also lead the con­fer­ence in pass­ing yards al­lowed (104 ypg) and fum­bles re­cov­ered (seven). They’re also tied with Liv­ing­stone for most in­ter­cep­tions this sea­son at nine to add to the pres­sure they bring against the pass.

“At ev­ery po­si­tion there’s a guy there that you can say, ‘Hey, this kid can play. I wouldn’t mind coach­ing him,’” Bar­low said of Bowie State. “There’s some in­te­rior guys that are re­ally big and have nice size, that kind of force the pocket and they’re push­ing guys back ... we’ve just gotta make sure we pro­tect, and ob­vi­ously our young guys have done a pretty de­cent job of pro­tect­ing so far. It’s been a big chal­lenge for them, but we’re look­ing for­ward to see­ing it.”

The last time Bowie State came to town, they crashed Vir­ginia State’s Home­com­ing by win­ning 22-19 in 2015.

That’s a heart­break the Tro­jans don’t wish to re­visit for many rea­sons.

Not only is a Home­com­ing win de­sir­able, but who­ever wins, stays un­de­feated and in­creases their chances of play­ing in the CIAA Cham­pi­onship game. The #1 spot in the North­ern Di­vi­sion, cur­rently held by Bowie State, is up for grabs in this game as VSU sits at #2.

A vic­tory would also make Coach Bar­low 7-0 at home as the head coach of the Tro­jans.

“There’s a lot of things that play into this game,” Bar­low said. “It’s a big game be­cause it’s Home­com­ing and ob­vi­ously it means so much to a lot of alum, and then of course it’s a big game be­cause it’s Bowie State. They over the last few years have re­ally set the bar for the North­ern Di­vi­sion ... they’re play­ing some re­ally good ball, and we’ve got to be ready to play.”

“We look at it as a big op­por­tu­nity for us to get ranked. Since they’re ranked, we should get ranked if we come out with the win,” Cook said. “But we’re gonna treat ‘em no dif­fer­ent from any­body else.”

“We’re tak­ing them the same as we have any other team we’ve played,” Can­non said. “It’s the next game, so the next game is the most im­por­tant game. That’s how we’re tak­ing Bowie.”

Game time for the mam­moth matchup be­tween the Vir­ginia State Tro­jans and the Bowie State Bull­dogs is Satur­day, Oct. 14 at Vir­ginia State Uni­ver­sity’s Rogers Sta­dium in Et­trick.

Game time is 2 p.m.; how­ever, due to an­tic­i­pated Home­com­ing traf­fic, early ar­rival is en­cour­aged.

[NI­CHOLAS VAN­DE­LOECHT/PROGRESS-IN­DEX.COM]

In this file photo, Vir­ginia State Foot­ball’s Cordel­ral Cook (cen­ter) runs in a 76-yard touch­down against Win­stonSalem State. The VSU Tro­jans will seek to stay un­de­feated against Bowie State, the lead­ing team in the CIAA North­ern Di­vi­sion, on Satur­day in VSU’s Home­com­ing Game.

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