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Down East Viking Football Classic prepares for 22nd year

091717DEVFC-defense

Elizabeth City State University defenders, from left, B.J. Harrington, Jonathan Turnage, Vincent Thomas and Miacah Cooper, combine to stop Fayetteville State University running back Stevie Green as he runs the ball Saturday during the 20th annual Down East Viking Football Classic at the Rocky Mount Sports Complex.

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By PATRICK MASON
Sports Writer

Thursday, August 1, 2019

When Elizabeth City State University football coach Anthony Jones took over the program ahead of the 2018 season, he soon learned about the Down East Viking Football Classic.

“One of the things you always do when you take a job is you try to figure out what’s important to the alumni,” Jones said. “The first thing I found out is what games or what classics are their babies. And the Down East Classic is it.”

The ECSU Vikings will host the Fayetteville State University Broncos at 4 p.m. on Setpt. 28 at the Rocky Mount Sports Complex as part of the 22nd annual DEVFC.

Jones and ECSU athletic director George Bright were joined in Rocky Mount’s city hall on Wednesday by Fayetteville State coach Richard Hayes Jr. and athletic director Anthony Bennett as part of a press conference announcing the event.

ECSU has hosted and organized the game since it began in 1996. Robbie Davis, the chairman of Nash County tourism, said that the Classic brings an “economic boon” to the area. Hotels fill up while restaurants and shops benefit from the uptick in visitors.

While the Classic centers around the football game, the event has expanded into a three-day affair with various parties, a banquet and reception, as well as a golf challenge held at Belmont Lake Golf Club.

It will mark the fifth game on the schedule for ECSU and the fourth for FSU — it is also the opening game of conference play in the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association for both squads.

Hayes, the Broncos’ fourth-year head coach, was in his second year in 2017 when the Broncos last played the Vikings in the DEVFC. ECSU won, 45-42, behind an exciting comeback.

Hayes remembers the full stands and the tailgating beforehand.

“It’s a great atmosphere,” Hayes said. “The tailgate, it’s definitely a homecoming-like atmosphere for both teams. It’s great to be a part of, and we hope to bring a tough, more experienced team because we want to win the game.

As for the Vikings’ Jones, who won a Super Bowl ring with the Washington Redskins during the 187-88 season, this will be his first Classic despite heading into his second year. Last year’s game was washed out due to Hurricanes Florence. The only other Classic to be canceled was in 1999 due to Hurricane Floyd.

Jones is looking forward to the game, and said that even though it will be played at a neutral site, the Vikings have to own the game.

“It’s yours. We’re involved in a lot of the planning and steps, and your fans and alumni understand it’s yours,” Jones said of it feeling like a home game. “Even though it’s not at home, it is a home game and it is our event. That makes it that much more important, and it has a significant meaning of not being just another game.”

Local ties

Fayetteville State University has two players from Rocky Mount High on the roster in Thomas Battle and Charlie Williams.

Battle, a redshirt sophomore defensive tackle, didn’t play last season but made 17 tackles and a fumble recovery in 2017. Also, safety Broderick Caudle recently graduated from FSU.

“This game is a great recruiting tool for us,” Hayes said. “ used to coach (Gryphons head coach) Jason Battle in college (N.C. A&T), so I’m familiar with the area and love coming out here. We’ve had three guys from Rocky Mount come through here recently and we’ll continue our little pipeline through Rocky Mount.”