By ADD SEYMOUR JR.
No one has to tell the Norfolk State football team how big tonight's game against Bethune-Cookman is. They open up a huge HBCU football weekend that will determine the possible postseason fate and/or championship game fate for a number of teams.
And in this one, these two are part of a five-way, first-place logjam in the MEAC.
"It's going to see who is the last man standing," Norfolk State head coach Pete Adrian told The Virginian-Pilot.
Forget the fact that the Spartans are 4-5 this season. What's important is they have won four of their last five games and are 4-1 in the MEAC. Along with Bethune-Cookman, they are tied with South Carolina State and North Carolina A&T and Morgan State in the conference's top spot. So this game will be the first in three that will help sort out the mess. Morgan State visits North Carolina A&T Saturday while South Carolina State visits Florida A&M.
So a loss to any of the teams could be devastating to their championship hopes.
“To have this many teams tied is kind of interesting but also kind of
good, because it allows everyone to keep a focus on our league, and it
shows how much our league has improved,” Bethune-Cookman head coach Brian Jenkins told the Daytona News Journal.
A national television audience, via ESPNU at 7:30 p.m. eastern time, will see the MEAC's second-stingiest scoring defense in Norfolk State (allowing only 16.6 points a game) face the conference's second-best scoring offense in Bethune-Cookman (scoring 29.2 points per game).
The Wildcats have only been held to 14 or less three times this season -- two of those ending in losses, including their 20-14 defeat at the hands of South Carolina State two weeks ago. The most Norfolk State has given up has been 14 points back in late September.
The Bethune-Cookman defense is just as stingy. While Norfolk State sports the FCS' third best defense in yardage per game (254) BCU is second in the nation at 243 yards per game.
The difference in the two teams is offense. Norfolk State ranks in the bottom half of the MEAC in most offensive categories, while Bethune-Cookman is third in rushing and fifth in passing.
But as they say, throw out the records in big games - especially since Norfolk State surprised everyone by beating BCU last season.
"I think the thing that helped us out last year was just believing that
they're beatable," Nofolk State defense back Darrin Marrow told The Virginia Pilot. "I mean, they're not an NFL team;
they're in our conference. We're just as good as they are."