BOWIE — In an intensifying rivalry spanning the past four seasons, Winston-Salem State’s (WSSU) football team has repeatedly triumphed over Bowie State. This year’s contest was a game riddled with dropped passes and missed opportunities on both sides.
However, the Bulldogs were determined not to fall in front of their home crowd on Sept. 29.
Bowie State quarterback Amir Hall had a relatively rough evening but showed poise and resilience in the game’s most crucial moments, including a game-winning 34-yard touchdown pass to Lansana Sesay with 1:14 left in the fourth, to lead the Bulldogs to a 20-17 comeback win in their home opener over WSSU at a packed, exhilarating Bulldog Stadium.
“Shout out to my O-line for just giving me time back there just to drive down the field and make the play happen,” said Hall of the gutsy game-winning play.
“We’re so thankful. We came here focused, stay poised all game and we came out victorious. I’m so blessed to be a part of this team and this group and family.”
Hall, a former Riverdale Baptist standout, finished with 281 passing yards on 28-of-52 attempts and recorded a team-high 59 rushing yards on 11 carries. He admitted to making some risky plays which fortunately didn’t turn out to be too costly for the Bulldogs (4-1, 2-0).
The first half was plagued by turnovers, dropped passes and quick three-and-outs among other offensive woes for the Bulldogs. However, they still managed to hold the Rams to one score, force a safety and nail a field goal to keep the game close, 7-5, at the half.
Hall attempted several long passes, two of which resulted in interceptions by WSSU defensive back Tyrell Flemming and safety Daryus Skinner. The Rams’ defense pressured Hall all game, forcing him to make some uncharacteristic plays down the stretch.
“I was so over-excited about playing at home I kinda just jerked a lot of my throws,” said the six-foot-four Bowie native.
“As I said, shout out to Winston-Salem. Those guys play so tough every year. Every year they give their best shot, they make me read the field. Just a lot of love for that university,” Hall said. “Every year they test my patience.”
The Bulldogs lost two consecutive Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) championship games to WSSU in 2015 and 2016, so this win was much needed as BSU makes a push to win the conference as expected according to preseason projections.
“This means a lot. Winston beat us in those championship losses, and I played pretty bad,” Hall said. “Like I said, they always present a difficult challenge for us. They always play hard, and they always prepare for us pretty well so going against those guys, I love ‘em,” said the 2016 CIAA Offensive Player of the Year.
Likewise, Bowie State Head Coach Damon Wilson expressed the significance of the victory and acknowledged the resilience of Hall and the Bulldogs.
“This win means a lot for us. Winning a college football game is hard. And to win a game like that – we were down the whole game – and to see our guys persevere and get it done at the end, it’s something that we practice, and it was a great experience,” Wilson said.
He also commended the toughness of WSSU’s defensive unit. “They’re a championship football team. It’s hard to score points in college, and you got a team like Winston that’s going to play for four quarters,” said Wilson, a former Bowie State tight end in his 10th year with the program as the man in charge.
“Amir is the best player in college football from a Division II standpoint. I’ll line him up against anybody. The kid stayed poised today…I don’t think he threw for a good percentage, but at the end of the day he made a play when it was time,” said Wilson of Hall.
“We just stayed with our game plan and kept pounding away, pounding away, and we made the play at the end.”
The Bulldogs’ defense found a way to contain Kerrion Moore, one of the top rushers in the CIAA. Moore scored the first touchdown on a three-yard run and finished with 85 yards on 22 carries.
WSSU has virtually run the conference since 2011, winning four CIAA titles in the past seven seasons.
WSSU quarterback Emiere Scaife connected with tight end Darren Dowdell on an eight-yard pass to put the Rams up, 14-5 with 10:22 left in the third as the Rams were in control and it appeared that history was going to repeat itself.
Junior running back Brandon Abrams scored BSU’s first touchdown on a 2-yard rush with 7:39 left in the third, and WSSU’s Riley Robbins drilled a 28-yarder late in the third to put the Rams up 17-12.
After the 34-yard score by Sesay, Hall connected on a short pass to Abrams for the two-point conversion to boost the Bulldog’s confidence in the game’s final moments.
WSSU had one final chance to reclaim the lead and pull off the upset in the final drive. Scaife and the Ram offense worked its way into scoring position, but as time expired, Tevin Singleton picked off Scaife’s desperation pass to seal the fourth consecutive win for the Bulldogs.
WSSU Head Coach Kienus Boulware was proud of his team’s effort but felt the Rams made some regrettable mistakes at the end that cost them.
“It was bound to happen. You keep taking shots with a quarterback like that or a receiving core like that,” said Boulware on the game-winning touchdown play.
“A couple of those other balls that he (Hall) threw like that we end up picking off but they got behind us on that one and, hey, it was a big play.”
With the loss, the Rams drop their third straight and open Southern Division play at Johnson C. Smith on Oct. 6.
The Bulldogs hit the road again to face Chowan to open Northern Division play on Oct. 6 at 1 p.m.