Pioneer Bowl XIV: Elizabeth City State holds on to defeat Tuskegee 28-13
By JOSEPH MYERS
For three quarters, Saturday's Pioneer Bowl XIV at Memorial Stadium wasn't much to write home about.
Elizabeth City State held a 7-6 lead, but the game was more about the mistakes the Vikings and Golden Tigers had made than anything else.
However, football games have four quarters and Elizabeth City State got its offense in gear and used a pair of big defensive plays to post a 28-13 victory over the Golden Tigers.
"When we started practice on Aug. 6, we set some goals," said Elizabeth City State head coach Waverly Tillar, whose team won eight of its final 10 games this season. "We wanted to win a conference title and that didn't happen, but our kids came out there today and showed they still had some fight left in them and we were able to finish the season with a win."
Elizabeth City quarterback Tyrell Houghton scrambles away from Tuskegee defensive tackle Aaron Bennett during the first half of the 2012 Pioneer Bowl
Mike Haskey Photo
Elizabeth City State's win is the third straight for the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association in the Pioneer Bowl and avenges a 21-7 loss to Tuskegee in Pioneer Bowl XI back in 2009, the Vikings' only other appearance in the bowl game.
Neither team was able to put a dent in the scoreboard, each missing a field goal, in the first quarter-plus before
Tuskegee (10-2) -- the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference champs who had a 10-game winning streak snapped with the loss -- was able to put together a scoring drive. The Golden Tigers went 71 yards in four plays and scored on a 19-yard run by quarterback Rashard Burkette. The extra point was blocked, but Tuskegee still led 6-0 with 2:37 to go in the first half and it took that lead into the locker room at halftime.
"We came out shaky," said Elizabeth City State running back DaRonte McNeill, who finished the game with 19 carries for 147 yards and two touchdowns. "We went into the locker room and talked about what we needed to improve on in the second half and we went out and executed."
The Vikings' Brad Davis blocked a field goal attempt on Tuskegee's opening drive of the second half and following a Golden Tigers' punt later in the quarter, Elizabeth City State's offense got going. Taking over at their own 49-yard line, the Vikings (8-4) used a strong ground game to go 51 yards in 11 plays to take a 7-6 lead on a 9-yard pass from Tyrell Houghton to Antonio Huff.
"All the success we had running the ball today has to go to the line," said McNeill. "As running backs, we can't run
the ball without our line doing their job and executing. We knew if they hit their assignments, we could hit some big plays and we started doing that the second half."
On the opening play of the fourth quarter, Tuskegee looked like it had taken the lead back when running back Derrick
Washington took a handoff and raced 68 yards towards the end zone. However, just before he crossed the goal line, Josh Brooks caught Washington from behind and punched the ball out of Washington's grasp. The ball went out the back of the end zone, resulting in a touchback and giving the Vikings the ball on their own 20.
"That really hurt," said Tuskegee coach Willie Slater. "I don't think it took all the wind out of our sails, but it really hurt. I just don't think we played well as a whole today, especially in the kicking game. I have to admit it was tough to get the kids ready this week. I couldn't convince them how intense they needed to be to win this game, but that's a tribute to Elizabeth City State."
The Vikings took the ball and drove 80 yards in 14 plays, taking almost seven minutes off the clock before McNeill
scored on a 14-yard run to give Elizabeth City State a 14-6 advantage with 8:07 to go in the game. Following a Tuskegee punt, McNeill got loose again for a 44-yard touchdown run and Elizabeth City State seemingly had the game in hand with a 21-6 lead with 4:38 remaining.
Tuskegee made one last push, though, going 87 yards in just under two minutes to creep back to within 21-13 after a 6-yard touchdown pass from Justin Nared to Marquel Gardner with 2:41 still showing on the clock. The Golden Tigers' defense forced the Vikings into a three-and-out, giving Tuskegee the ball back at its own 37 with 2:01 to go.
Nared led Tuskegee down the field, getting to the Elizabeth City State 22 before Brooks made his second big defensive play of the quarter. When Nared went to throw an out route to a receiver, Brooks stepped in front of the pass and took the interception 80 yards for a touchdown to make it 28-13 and seal the win for the Vikings.
"We knew a win today would help us cap off a good season," said McNeill. "We took our first two games lightly and we lost both of them. After that, we knew we had to come out and play hard every game."
Houghton finished the game 14-for-24 for 118 yards and a touchdown through the air while adding 39 rushing yards on 13 carries. Huff was Houghton's top target with four receptions for 30 yards and a score.
McNeill was named the game's Most Valuable Player for Elizabeth City State, while Washington -- who had 20 carries for 185 yards and four receptions for another 63 yards -- was voted Tuskegee's MVP.
Nared went 14-for-29 for 183 yards and a touchdown, but he also had two interceptions as well. Burkette also was 4-for-5 for another 89 yards as well. Gardner hauled in seven passes for 112 yards and a touchdown in the loss.