The last 5 minutes of the game between the North Carolina Central Eagles and Delaware State Hornets told the entire story. What the Eagles fans in O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium did not know when they entered the game was that they were about to get on a roller-coaster for the ages.
An NC Central came off their bye week, the game against Delaware State was an important one to get the Eagles back on track, who were at 2-5 to enter the game. The Eagles led the game by 10 going into the 4th quarter, and showed clear control of the game until the Hornets began to slowly chip away at the lead with a few field goals.
With just under 7 minutes left in the game, the Eagles offense took control of the ball and went to milk the clock with the running game. After a few first downs, things took a turn for the worse for Central when Latrell Collier coughed up the ball near midfield to give the Hornets the ball
Tylik Bethea, quarterback for Delaware State, made it clear to the Eagles defense that his connection with fellow freshman, Bizzet Woodley became apparent in the game. Even with the large number of turnovers, the DSU offense committed, the Bethea- Woodley connection was the brightest spot of the offense. Woodley was the temporary hero for Delaware State, when he caught a back shoulder fade for a 2-yard touchdown to tie the game at 23.
Moments after the game-tying touchdown, the Central fans rallied their team and made some noise for them, giving the team support before kick-off. After just 12 seconds, Brandon Codrington became the true hero of the game for NC Central, after fielding the kick-off at the 25 yard line, and then slicing his way through the Hornet’s special teams on his way to a 75 yard kickoff return touchdown, the Eagles first since 2015, and gaining the lead on DSU. The score was NCCU’s first kickoff return touchdown since 2015.
The final drive for Delaware State with 38 seconds left in the game kept the game down to the wire. After an unnecessary roughness penalty on an Eagle, Bethea dropped back to pass, threw to the left corner of the end zone, and was intercepted by Bryan Mills, cornerback for NC Central, effectively ending the game.
When asked by the News and Observer how he handled the last few minutes of the game, Trei Oliver, NC Central head coach, said: “I was relaxed man.. As cool as the other side of the pillow,” After a game like Saturday unfolded, one would think the coach would feel anything but relaxed.
Turnovers are how the NCCU team has lived this season. Coming into the game, the Eagles defense forced 17 turnovers lead the MEAC. On Saturday afternoon, the Eagles forced 4 more turnovers, with 2 interceptions and 2 fumble recoveries, effectively leading the conference with a commanding 21 turnovers on the season. To put this into perspective, the New England Patriots, the defending Super Bowl champions, currently have forced 25 turnovers on their season, and 22 before Saturday’s game.
Stars of the Game-
Isaiah Totten, Running Back, NCCU
Totten became the 8th player in North Carolina Central history to reach 2,000 yards rushing on Saturday. He finished as Central’s leading rusher, with 7 carries, 41 yards and 1 touchdown on the day.
Bizzet Woodley, Wide Receiver, DSU
Woodley was the lone bright spot in the Delaware State offense. He finished the game with 7 catches, 99 yards and 2 touchdowns, but also made a few crucial catches on third down to keep DSU in the game in the second half.
Jose Romo-Martinez, Kicker, DSU
Martinez went 3/3 on field goal attempts and made both extra points. While the DSU offense couldn’t put up points on the board for most of the afternoon, Romo-Martinez kept the team within fighting distance by chipping away at Central’s lead with made field goal attempts in the second half.
Brandon Codrington, Kickoff/Punter Returner, NCCU
Codrington was quiet on Saturday. He did not produce many returns yards, as he was usually stopped relatively quickly after catching the ball. That all changed in the last minute of the game, as Codrington dazzled and danced his way through the Delaware State kickoff coverage team for the game winning 75-yard touchdown. Codrington was the hero of the afternoon.