DURHAM, NC - The #4 Winston-Salem State Football team scored 28 second half points and survived a late scare from Elizabeth City State, and rode the wave of running back Nicholas Cooper's 165 yards and three touchdowns, enroute to a 38-18 win in the 2011 CIAA Football Championship Game in Durham, NC.
The 10,127 football fans in attendance were treated to a beautiful afternoon for a game and saw the WSSU Rams, who moved to 11-0 overall on the season, come away with their ninth football championship and first since 2000.
Elizabeth City State falls to 8-3 on the year.
After deferring the coin toss, Winston-Salem State would hold Elizabeth City on their first possession, and the Rams would march down the field highlighted by a Nicholas Cooper 13 yard run and end up with three points, on a Landen Thayer 27 yard field goal, to give the Rams the early 3-0 advantage.
The WSSU defense would stop the Vikings again on their next series on a three and out, and the WSSU offense would go to work once again and this time march down the field 84 yards in 11 plays, capped off by a Kameron Smith to Tehvyn Brantley nine yard pass and catch for a touchdown. The PAT gave the Rams an early 10-0 lead and it looked like it could be another blowout win for the Rams.
The Elizabeth City State Vikings were determined to make this a game, and they would march down the field, chewing up 4:27, going 49 yards in 11 plays. But the Rams would come up big on the ECSU field goal attempt, as Akeem Ward would penetrate the Viking defensive line and leap and block the ball, and Alton Keaton would fall on the loose ball for WSSU.
Winston-Salem State would go three and out on a Kameron Smith interception and the Viknings would take full advantage this time marching down the field and scoring on a Daronte McNeill two yar run. But the PAT was blocked by WSSU's CJ Washington, making the score 10-6 with 9:01 left before halftime.
Both teams would have another possession but could do nothing with it and the Rams would that the 10-6 lead into the half.
WSSU would come out clicking on all cylinders in the second half and one the first play from scrimmage, Jameze Massey would take a reverse and scamper down the left sideline and cutting back across the field enroute to a 64 yard gain. With the personal foul penalty levied against the Vikings, WSSU would have a first down on the three yard line. Nicholas Cooper would cross the goal line on the next play pushing the Rams lead to 17-6.
Then on Elizabeth City's next drive, after moving down the field and into Ram territory, CIAA Defensive Player of the Year, WSSU Alton Keaton, would make one of the biggest plays of the year. WSSU had just been flagged for a pass interference call, when on first down the Vikings quarterback would drop back for a pass, but Keaton would zoom in and sack the ball carrier, stripping the ball and then scooping it up and racing 64 yards to the ECSU 14 yard line. Two plays later Cooper would hit the endzone for the second time in the quarter giving WSSU what seemed to be an insurmountable lead.
The Ram defense would hold ECSU down once again on the next drive, forcing a three and out, and when the Rams starting driving down the field and into Viking territory, the Ram faithful could all envision the Championship.
But the drive would faulter for WSSU, and after missing a 38 yard field goal, Elizabeth City would start to gain momentum.
On WSSU's next possession, Nicholas Cooper would put the ball on the ground, and as the fourth quarter started, Elizabeth City State would covert the turnover into points, would finding the endzone by capping an eight play, 61 yard drive ending in a Creven Powell to Billy Wiggins score, cutting the Ram lead to 24-12.
On WSSU's next snap, Jameze Massy would rush for eight yards, but a glancing blow would cause him to fumble, giving the ball back to the Vikings, and with their fans behind them, they would start to drive once again.
But after holding the conference's Offensive Play of the Year in check for most of the game, McNeill would quickly quiet the Ram faithful, when on a fourth down and two, McNeill would find a crease and explode into the WSSU secondary scampering untouched for a 52 yard score. The missed PAT, cut the Rams lead to 24-18 with 12:17 remaining in the contest.
Determined to make good after his last miscue, Nic Cooper would put the Rams offense on his back, rushing for 55 yards on four carries on WSSU's nine play 70 yard drive that took 5:07 off the clock, capping the drive with a 20 yard score around the right end, pushing the WSSU lead back to 30-18.
The WSSU Rams defense would come up big once again, and the Rams added a safety after a bad snap on a punt attempt that sailed over the punters head, and backup fullback Tyrone Goldston provided the exclamation point, a 24-yard touchdown run with 1:23 left to give the Rams final margin of victory to 20, at 38-18.
Nicholas Cooper was game the game MVP for Winston-Salem State, while Daronte McNeill was named MVP for Elizabeth City State.
Offensively, the Rams were led by Nicholas Cooper's 163 yards on 24 carries and three scores. Wide receiver Jameze Massey had two carries for 73 yards, Tyrone Gholston had four carries for 50 yards, Kameron Smith rushed six times for 31 yards and Maurice Lewis rushed six times for six yards.
Tehvyn Brantley led WSSU with five catches for 34 yards and a touchdown, while Darryl Freeney, had two 33 yards, Jamal Williams had two for 28 yards, and Tyrone Gholston two catches for nine yards. Jameze Massey had one for seven yards.
Landen Thayer punted once for 45 yards, and went one for two on field goals with a 27 yarder for three points.
Defensively, Alton Keaton (five) led the Rams in tackles for the eighth time this season, racking up seven tackles, one sack, 2.5 tackles for loss, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and one blocked kick. Akeem Ward finished with six tackles (four solo), one and half tackles for loss and one blocked kick. Brian Williams also had six tackles (three solo). Antonio Gates, Khendra Reid and Carlos Fields each had five tackles, with Gates picking up a sack and a tackle for a loss.
WSSU will find out the official NCAA DII Playoff pairings when they are announced at 5:00 pm on Sunday.