Winston-Salem State senior defensive back Daijon Carson (26, from left), freshman offensive lineman Brandon Lewis (67) and senior defensive back Omar Baker Jr. (3) raise their helmets as the Red Sea of Sound plays following the Rams’ 21-14 loss to Catawba in an NCAA football game on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019, at Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C. (Winston-Salem Journal/Allison Lee Isley) 20190915w_spt_wssufootball
Nothing has gone right for Winston-Salem State so far this season.
More evidence of that came Saturday night in its home opener against Catawba. For the second game in a row the Rams failed to score in the second half and this time they lost 21-14 in front of nearly 5,000 at Bowman Gray Stadium.
Quarterback Kendall Davis, who played the whole way in place of the injured starting quarterback, Ken Avent III, scored on a 1 yard keeper with 33 seconds left that was the difference. After the two-point conversion was also good the Indians (1-1) led 21-14.
The Rams (0-2) did make it interesting when on the last play of the game quarterback Dominique Graves threw a Hail Mary from midfield that was tipped at the 5 yard line and caught by wide receiver Darren Dowdell. However, Dowdell was tackled three yards short as the game ended.
“The unfortunate part of us these last two games has been the inconsistency,” said Robert Massey, the interim head coach of the Rams. “We had penalties late in the game that kept their drives going and offensively we didn’t score in the second half. Those two things we have to correct.”
Even though the Rams’ offense sputtered at every opportunity in the second half the defense did its best but finally broke late in the game. On the Indians final drive of the game, and trailing 14-13, they used seven minutes with running back Demonte Good and Davis doing most of the damage. A roughing the passer penalty was one of the mistakes during that long drive.
Good, who rushed for 123 yards on 24 carries, said it was a strong second half that bailed the Indians out.
“We knew we had to come out and play better and not give up,” Good said. “We did a nice job of that so this is a big win for us.”
Graves, who had one touchdown pass but was sacked three times, struggled to find his rhythm and had two interceptions. The one killer interception came midway through the third quarter when Graves tried to hit Chandler Belk (5 catches for 146 yards) on a slant from the 8 yard line but the ball was tipped at the line of scrimmage by Cameron Davis right into the hands of L.J. Melvin, who then rumbled 65 yards the other way.
The interception led to a field goal for the Indians as they cut the lead to 14-13.
“I think he’s still young and this was his eighth game starting of his career but he’s getting smarter and getting better,” Massey said about Graves, who now has four interceptions in two games. “I tell him if he doesn’t see it throw it in the stands or circle back and don’t get sacked. But that’s part of the maturing process and, again, he’s our guy and we’ll just keep trying to improve.”
Graves’ twin brother, Kendyl, who is on the offensive line said it’s about finishing games and that is something they haven’t done yet.
“We have to limit our penalties because those are drive killers,” Kendyl said. “We have to capitalize when we get into the Red Zone.”
Kendyl said his brother had an off game, but he will bounce back. Dominique wound up 15 of 27 passing for 249 yards.
“He’ll be all right in the next game,” Kendyl said.
The Rams trailed early 7-0 but Farrell Murchison scored off the wildcat formation on a 1-yard plunge early in the second quarter to tie the game. Late in the second quarter Clayton Crile made a 16-yard field goal for the Indians after a nice goal line stand by the Rams’ defense.
The Rams had a final chance in the first half and Graves put together his best drive of the night and found Cam Williams for a 33-yard touchdown with 30 seconds left in the half. Williams made the over-the-shoulder catch on a third-down play in the back of the end zone.
“We just have to finish ball games and keep that tempo going,” Williams said. “We have to be able to do what we did in the first half and duplicate that in the second half. We have to find a way.”
The Rams’ defense allowed 314 yards and made several big plays in the second half but the offense kept stalling out. Daryus Skinner had a big interception in the end zone to kill one of the Indians’ drive and senior rover Omar Baker, Jr. had his best game of his career.
Baker had five tackles, a sack, forced a fumble and also was credited with breaking up a pass.
Despite being 0-2 and a game looming at Tuskegee in Alabama on Saturday, Baker says the Rams can salvage their season.
“Right now it has lit a fire under us even more and we have to finish,” Baker said. “We have to stay positive and we still are together. We might fuss and fight and yell at each other from time to time but we are together because we are family.”
The Rams are 0-2 for the first time since the 2015 season when they went 6-5 overall. However, the Rams also won the CIAA championship that season.
“You look at this thing and we can’t be negative because we have a lot of football that's left to be played,” Massey said. “We have to learn to handle adversity a lot better. We’re a flashy team right now that plays in spurts, but we’re not consistent.”
Catawba 7 3 3 8 - 21
WSSU 0 14 0 0 - 14
C – Burnam 5 pass from Davis (Crile kick)
W – Murchison 1 run (Buenaventura kick)
C – Crile 16 yard field goal
W – Cam Williams 33 pass from Graves (Buenaventura kick)