Overworked, cold, wet and betrayed by its special teams, Elizabeth City State’s defense needed one final stop to leave Rocky Mount with a victory.
By that point in the game, the defense’s day should have been complete. They allowed no points in the final three quarters and earned a crucial stop with 2:07 remaining to give the offense the ball.
But another stop?
Defensive back D.D. Williams batted away quarterback Teddy Bacote’s fourth-down pass with 12 seconds to play, saving a 23-21 victory in the 15th Annual Down East Viking Football Classic, the Vikings’ fifth straight victory in Rocky Mount.
“I had the slot receiver, and my job was to not get beat inside,” Williams said. “I didn’t get beat inside, I followed him and beat him to his route. I batted it down and it was ballgame over.”
Despite holding the Falcons (3-2, 1-1 CIAA) to 55 yards rushing and 190 yards total offense, the Vikings (3-2, 2-0) needed defensive stops to save a win thanks to a few special teams gaffes.
After Elizabeth City State scored to take a 21-7 lead in the third quarter, Falcons wide receiver Tyron Laughinghouse broke several tackles and took the ensuing kickoff 95 yards for a score.
Laughinghouse struck again in the fourth quarter, breaking a punt return down the left sideline for a 77-yard touchdown.
“It was a nightmare special teams performance,” Elizabeth City State coach Waverly Tillar said. “We are going to get back to the drawing board. We are going to fix that, including personnel.”
Despite the mistakes in the third phase, the Vikings’ scored 16 points thanks to special teams.
The Vikings benefitted from both teams in disarray on a punt in the second quarter with the game tied at seven. On a fourth-and-three from their own 42 yard-line, the Falcons faked a punt by snapping the ball to the up-man, but the Vikings stopped the play short of the marker.
St. Augustine’s hadn’t intended to fake the punt; Elizabeth City State wasn’t completely ready for it.
“It was more of a blown call, but we thought we had an opportunity to do it,” St. Augustine’s coach Michael Costa said. “We talked about it earlier in the week because (Elizabeth City State) did some things that gave us that opportunity to try to do it.”
Williams, who made the tackle on the play, wasn’t ready for the snap.
“I was just trying to tell our guys not to jump offsides,” he said. “They snapped the ball, and I wasn’t even ready. I saw him running and just ran to make the tackle.”
Seven plays later, the Vikings took a 14-7 lead on running back Kevin Swain’s second rushing touchdown of the first half.
Early in the third quarter, the Falcons had a bad snap on a punt, and the Vikings pounced on the ball on the Falcons’ 27 yard-line.Two plays later, quarterback Namon Jones found Rocky Mount High grad Keith Strickland for a 27-yard touchdown on a play-action pass.
Strickland chalked up the play to running back Daronte McNeill, who passed 4,000 yards for his career with 27 carries for 122 yards.
“They have to respect Daronte a lot,”
Strickland said. “The safeties just fly in. We run it scot-free sometimes: It’s just me and the corner, and I got the best that time.”
The two-point difference in the game was due to the conclusion of a wild sequence of plays following Strickland’s touchdown catch. Laughinghouse’s kick return came on the ensuing kick, though the Falcons were unorganized on the extra point.
With time running out and only 10 men on the field, St. Augustine’s attempted to rush another man on the field. The Falcons snapped the ball in time, but the Vikings blocked the hurried kick, and Nigel Rios scooped up the ball and ran 92 yards for two points.
“Just not ready,” Costa said, shaking his head. “We should have went on and took the delay of game and kicked it.”
The Vikings’ defense did not allow the Falcons a chance to score, and the heavy rain kept the Falcons’ field goal kicking unit on the sideline. Tillar said the Vikings’ performance was far from complete, but there are two important factors: They still won, and the mistakes are correctable.
“It should never have gotten to that point, but it’s fixable,” Tillar said. “It’s still a work in progress. I’ve been calling for all three phases to come together and I thought (Saturday) would be fitting, but it still hasn’t happened yet. As soon as we get into divisional play, all three phases will come together.”
Elizabeth City State 23
St. Augustine’s 21
SA 7 0 6 8 – 21
ECSU 7 7 9 0 – 23
ECSU – Kevin Swain 16 run (Brett Symonds kick), 9:49
SA – Roderick Davenport 21 run (Michael Lima kick), 3:14
ECSU – Swain 13 run (Symonds kick), 0:53
ECSU – Keith Strickland 27 pass from Namon Jones (Symonds kick), 6:54
SA – Tyron Laughinghouse 95 kick return, 6:34
ECSU – Nigel Rios 92 PAT return, 6:34
SA – Laughinghouse 77 punt return, 10:08
20 First downs.......................17
135 Passing yards................154
190 Total offense...................290
Rushing – SA: Roderick Davenport 17-66; Deonte Toliver 4-11; Shane Russell 1-11; Germaine Jones 1-3; Teddy Bacote 7-1; Alexander Tucker 2-(-18); Rory Nixon 1-(-19). ECSU: Daronte McNeill 27-122; Swain 7-42; Cordero Riddick 2-5; William Ellegor 1-0; Daivd Gatlin 1-(-5); Will Boyette 1-(-9); Namon Jones 6-(-17). Passing – SA: Bacote 8-38-0, 135. ECSU: Jones 14-24-1, 154; Petey Boone 0-1.
Receiving – SA: Tyron Laughinghouse 7-48; Brian Richards 5-49; Rowdy Batchelor 4-29; Herman Reaves 1-5; Jones 1-4. ECSU: Keith Strickland 5-76; Laray Kindred 2-33; McNeill 2-16; Anthony Jones 1-23; Antonio Huff 4-6.
Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or firstname.lastname@example.org