By ADD SEYMOUR JR.
Today, three HBCU football teams take on higher ranked opponents in the first round of the NCAA Division II football playoffs.
Two Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association teams, Virginia Union and Bowie State, and the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference's Tuskegee, all are on the road today as the 14-team road to the championship begins.
Virginia Union (8-2, 7-1 CIAA) goes to Slippery Rock, a team that finished the season 10-1 and won the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference championship. (kickoff at noon). The Rock features a high octane offense that averaged nearly 49 points and 517 yards of offense a game.
They are led by running back Shamar Greene, who has rushed for 129 yards a game, and quarterback Dante Nania, who has thrown for 2,471 yards and 24 touchdowns this season.
VUU brings their own offensive fireworks into the game. They led the CIAA in scoring with 33 points a game, touchdowns (45) and was second in total points with 330. Quarterback Shawheem Dowdy and running back Hakeem Holland led the Panthers offense as Dowdy was the CIAA's second best QB with 2,035 yards and 19 TDs passing while Holland was fifth in rushing yards (1,012) and yards per game (101). The Panthers will look for Miles Pace to put pressure on Nania as he led the CIAA in sacks with 10 and forced four fumbles.
Bowie State (9-2, 7-0 CIAA) finished just behind Virginia Union in scoring this season, averaging 32.6 a game in the CIAA and led the conference in total points with 359, touchdown passes (31), passing yards and yards passing per game. Much of that was with Matt Goggans at quarterback, but who who was ruled ineligible midway through the season.
But the Bulldogs haven't missed a beat with freshman Nyema Washington taking over behind center. In five games, Washington has thrown for nearly 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns, though he has six interceptions. He has also rushed for three touchdowns. The Bulldogs will look for one of the CIAA's top defenses to shut down Assumption (10-1). (kickoff at 1 pm}
Third-seeded Assumption has won nine consecutive games on the strength of a balanced offense and defense. The led the Northeastern 10 Conference in scoring and points. The Bowie State defense will look to shut them down as they gave up less than 200 yards a game passing, had 37 sacks, 16 fumble recoveries and picked off 12 passes this season.
What's big for both of those games is that if both Bowie State and Virginia Union win, it sets up a second round game that will be a rematch of the tough Oct. 24 battle between the two CIAA foes in which BSU won 23-19.
Tuskegee (8-2, 4-1 SIAC) takes the SIAC's leading offense (30 points per game) along with the conference's Defensive Player of the Year in Jewell Ratliff to Catawba (9-2) for the first meeting for the the two schools. (kickoff is at 1 pm)
Catawba has a balanced offense with Cary Littlejohn rushing for nearly 1,000 this season and quarterback Mike Sheehan throwing for 1,300 yards this season and rushing for 704 and 12 TDs. Its on defense where Catawba shines. Kyle Kitchens had 60 tackles and ten sacks to lead a Catawba defense that had 25 sacks this year and led the South Athletic Conference in total defense this year.
Tuskegee led the SIAC in scoring defense, giving up just under 15 points a game and was second in total defense. Ratliff was dominant, leading the SIAC with 118 tackles.