Trudging off the field one last time this football season, Winston-Salem State had nothing left in the tank.
The Rams were humbled by the determined Fayetteville State Broncos, losing 31-17. Making things worse was that it took place on the brown, dormant Bermuda grass of Bowman Gray Stadium.
For the second time in the past three seasons, the Broncos (8-2) clinched the Southern Division title and a trip to Saturday’s CIAA championship game in Salem, Va. This will be the Broncos’ third straight trip there, where undefeated Bowie State (10-0) awaits a rematch. The Bulldogs beat the Broncos in last year’s championship game.
To get there, however, the Broncos needed a win while the Rams were hoping to salvage a .500 record. Instead, the Rams left with a 4-6 record and looming questions about interim head coach Robert Massey.
“It was meltdown on our part,” Massey said of the second half. “We couldn’t stop their running game and we gave up some big plays in the passing game. And offensively, we couldn’t get anything going.”
The Rams, despite amassing just 108 total yards of offense, somehow managed to score 17 points. Thanks to their defense, which gave them great field position, running back Farrell Murchison scored on two short runs and Ivan Caro made a 28-yard field goal in the second half.
The Rams led 17-10 after Caro’s field goal, but the Broncos, behind running back Stevie Green, started to move the ball. Green, who has rushed for nearly 4,500 yards in his brilliant four-year career, scored from 4 yards out to tie the game at 17 with 1:49 left in the third quarter.
Running back Darnell Walker put the Broncos ahead for good early in the fourth quarter with a 10-yard run up the middle in which he bounced off at least four Rams to score.
On the Rams’ next possession, quarterback Dominique Graves was sacked and he fumbled on the play deep in their own territory. Three plays later, Walker scored from 3 yards out to put the game out of reach.
Graves was just 1 of 7 passing for 14 yards in just a handful of series. Senior Naiil Ramadan, a graduate transfer playing in his final game, played most of the game. But he was just 2 of 6 for 13 yards with one interception.
“I think it came down to execution and we missed on so many big play chances,” said Ramadan. “We didn’t execute and we struggled because of that. It’s unfortunate we had to end the season like this with a loss.”
Coach Richard Hayes of the Broncos, a former defensive coordinator of the Rams, has been at Fayetteville State as the head coach for four seasons. The Broncos have their third straight Southern Division title and will get another crack at winning the CIAA title.
Wide receiver Tyeous Sharpe of the Broncos, a Parkland graduate, was also on the field when the Broncos clinched the title in his freshman year. He said this one was sweeter.
“This is wonderful to be home and win a big game like this,” said Sharpe, who had two catches for 44 yards. “We had some turnovers in the first half but we didn’t get down and just stuck to our game plan.”
The Broncos had 355 yards of offense, but also had three turnovers. Two of those turnovers were interceptions by safety Daryus Skinner, one of 19 seniors playing in their final game for the Rams. Skinner, an All-America last season, ended his career with 22 interceptions, second best in school history.
“It’s tough to leave this field,” said Skinner. “We did a lot out here in my four years, and we did pretty well in the first half. But we just couldn’t hold them off in the second half.”
This off-season will be one to watch as the school hired a permanent athletics director in Etienne Thomas last week. But she doesn’t officially start until Jan. 1, 2020. There could be an announcement this week about Massey and the status of various assistant coaches.
“I haven’t heard anything,” Massey said. “In this business, if you are going to do anything it has to be swift because of recruiting and everything else. There’s so much involved, so once they call me if it goes my way I’ll continue to run the program and if there is an exit interview, I’m OK with that, too.
“That’s just the nature of the business.”
Several players voiced their opinions, wanting Massey to come back because he’s a strict disciplinarian (12 players were suspended throughout the season for breaking team rules).
Kendyl Graves, a sophomore offensive lineman who is Dominique’s twin brother, said Massey should get more time without the interim tag.
“Most definitely we want him to come back,” Kendyl said. “I don’t think he was given a fair shot, with having just one year. He didn’t get to recruit a full recruiting season with him as a head coach.
“He changed the program and it changed for the better. It might not have shown up in the wins or loses but I would definitely want to see him come back.”
Massey said there was some emotion in the locker room after the game.
“As a man, this game has been too good to me and I just wish it could have been different this season,” Massey said. “We wanted to make sure we enjoyed the ride and for the most part this season they played hard. I’m proud of them for that and you can’t change it or get those losses back.”
He didn’t mind sharing what he told the players afterwards.
“I told the seniors ‘thank you,’” Massey said about his post-game talk with his team. “And now they have to start thinking more about life after football and getting that degree.
“And for the young guys, if your intent is to be a football player here you have to do some things to get better.”
The Rams finished below .500 for the first time since 2009 when they went 1-10.
Fayetteville state 10 0 7 14 — 31 Winston-Salem State 0 14 3 0 — 17
F — Person-Boyd 28 pass from Latimer (Young kick)
F — Andrew 20 field goal
W — Murchison 1 run (Caro kick)
W — Murchison 1 run (Caro kick)
W — Caro 28 field goal
F — Green 5 yard run (Young kick)
F — Walker 9 run (Young kick)
F — Walker 3 run (Young kick)
A — 2,100