Oct 27, 2010
Fayetteville, N.C. — The Fayetteville State Broncos still have a lot to play for.
No, they aren’t making a late-season run at a berth in the CIAA Championship. But in playing their best football of the season over the last month, and after blistering Livingstone 59-6 on Homecoming last week, the Broncos are working to build the foundation for their next run at a CIAA title.
But to continue their upward trend – Fayetteville State (3-5, 2-3) has won two of its last three games and given league unbeatens St. Augustine’s and Shaw tremendous scares – the Broncos must close the 2010 season the right way.
“To continue to improve as a football team, and to make sure the younger players understand what it takes to not finish a football season on a down note, but to finish it on an upward note,” says Fayetteville State coach Kenny Phillips, when asked what the team is focusing on in the closing weeks. “This is another opportunity to go out and compete and try to win a football game. And anytime you win a football game, you instill that much more confidence in yourself.”
The Broncos have been playing with more confidence and swagger in recent weeks, and it’s shown in all areas on the football field. Fayetteville State blocked four punts against Livingstone, and quarterback Robert Benjamin (Jr., Phoenix, AZ) continues his ascent in CIAA play while the running game is showing improvement. The defense was stout against the Blue Bears, as evidenced by CIAA leading tackler Jeremy Cunningham (Sr., Casa Grande, AZ) picking up the league’s Linebacker of the Week award for the second time this season after a 13-tackle, 1-sack performance last week. Not to be outdone, freshman defensive lineman Hakeem Vinson (Smithfield, NC) was named CIAA Rookie of the Week after sharing the team lead in tackles, with 13.
Vinson, in particular, is quickly emerging as one of the Broncos’ key defensive players.
“He’s starting to understand the defense a little better and where he fits in the defense,” Phillips says of the 6-foot-4, 280-pound defender, who has played anywhere from linebacker to defensive end to tackle for the Broncos. “He had an outstanding football game on Saturday, and he’s a very talented young man. He’s big, fast and he’s strong, and this was probably the first game that he’s shown his talent and what he can do for us. When you start making plays, you start building a little confidence in your ability. And now that he’s shown he can make plays, we’re expecting to see that out of him every week.”
Cunningham, Vinson and the rest of the defense will be put to the test against Johnson C. Smith at 1 p.m. Saturday at Luther “Nick” Jeralds Stadium. Despite a poor record, the Golden Bulls (1-7, 0-5) have plenty of quick-strike capability in quarterback Ryan Cater and wide receiver Jeremy Franklin.
“They’re a scary football team,” says Phillips. “Offensively, they’re a lot better than Livingstone, though they’ve struggled a little bit like we’ve struggled a little bit. We have to make sure that we don’t lose our focus and go out there and compete, because they’re a very dangerous football team.”
Johnson C. Smith’s offensive numbers compare favorably with Fayetteville State’s – the Bulls have outgained the Broncos by more than 400 yards this season, and average 338 yards per game -- though the Bulls’ defense has been stung over the course of the season. Johnson C. Smith has allowed 322 points this season – an average of 40.2 points per game – and given up an average of 404 yards of offense to its opponents.
But with the dual threat in Carter – he leads Smith in rushing and passing, and has a total of 13 touchdowns – and Franklin (49 receptions, 643 yards, four TDs), the Bulls are capable of running with the Broncos.
“Those two guys are their offensive backbone,” says Phillips. “You have to know where Franklin is at all times. And Carter is so athletic, and those are the kinds of quarterbacks who make you pull your hair out as a defensive football coach because when things break down around him, he has the ability to make people miss and get into the open field.
“Jeremy is a very good receiver and he’s a big target. And when the play breaks down, you can’t go to sleep, because Carter is still looking to throw the ball when he scrambles.”
It will be a stern – and good – test for the maturing Broncos.
“What we’re trying to do is build some momentum at the end of this season and work towards the beginning of next football season,” Phillips says.
“These guys are getting a lot of game experience now, and they’re beginning to understand what it takes to win on Saturday and what it takes to be a consistent starter here at Fayetteville State.”
Saturday’s game will be Military Appreciation Day for the Broncos, where active members of the military will be admitted free of charge.
“We’re in a military town, and we need to show our appreciation for everything they’re doing abroad to provide for us the freedom we enjoy here in the United States,” Phillips says.
In addition, the Broncos will commemorate Breast Cancer Awareness by wearing flashes of pink with the uniforms on Saturday.
Says Phillips: “The players have been wearing some pink the last four weeks, and that shows how they feel about the cause. We’re looking forward to Saturday.”