WSSU advances to the national title gameBy Semaj Marsh
Published: December 18, 2012
Prior to Winston-Salem State’s national semifinal showdown against West Texas A&M last Saturday, Rams head coach Connell Maynor told his team that they would likely encounter adversity, maybe even find themselves trailing on the scoreboard by a touchdown or two, but if they just stuck with the game-plan as they’ve done all season, they would once again prevail.
Those words proved to be prophetic as WSSU withstood an early Buffaloes score and then stormed back to win 41-18 on an electric night at Bowman-Gray Stadium to advance to the Division II National Championship game.
The undefeated Rams will now face two-time national champs Valdosta State this Saturday in Florence, Alabama at 1 p.m. in a contest that will be televised live on ESPN2. “The guys were ready to play,” said Maynor after his team improved to 14-0 on what would be the final home game for 21 Ram seniors.
“We knew that was a good football team, and I told the guys there’s going to be some adversity with two well-coached teams. There were two good football teams out there.” Even before the WSSU marching band could return to their seats after playing the national anthem, West Texas A&M delivered the first blow of the game, thanks to a 76 yard opening kickoff return by Jarrian Rhone that moved the ball down to the Rams’ 16 yard line. On the next play, Buffaloes quarterback Dustin Vaughan scrambled away from two defenders and found Trevor Hammargren in the corner of the end zone for
a 7-0 lead after just 20 seconds.
That quick strike seemed to stun some of the more than 8,600 fans in attendance, but with Maynor’s pregame message still resonating in their ears, the Ram players on the sidelines remained steadfast.
After a stalled drive on their first possession, WSSU would respond with a four-play, 76 yard scoring drive, capped by Bryce Sherman’s 32-yard touchdown run, to pull within 7-6. The Rams gradually began to find its offensive rhythm and scored 14 more unanswered points to take a commanding 20-7 lead into the half.
Senior quarterback Kameron Smith played arguably his most complete game of the season, throwing two touchdowns and running for another while making sure not to commit any turnovers. He got help from running back Maurice Lewis who amassed a game-high 118 yards on the ground and two touchdowns, while Jamal Williams and Jameze Massey both caught touchdown passes.
“It’s big,” said Sherman who finished with 73 yards rushing and one touchdown on 10 carries. “Being an HBCU we can be the first to win a national championship. To represent our conference — and a lot of people say our conference is weak — but the bottom line is we are playing for a national championship. They are all cheering for us. So for us to win a national title would be real big.”
In the second half, WSSU’s stout defense began to dominate the line of scrimmage and kept Vaughan under constant harassment. He was sacked four times and was intercepted twice.
Now the only thing standing in the way of WSSU claiming its first football national title in school history will be the perennial Division II powerhouse, Valdosta State – a program that has won two previous national titles. The Blazers enter the championship with an 11-2 record and are coming off an impressive 35-19 win over previously unbeaten Minnesota State-Mankato last weekend.
“We have to finish,” said senior linebacker Khendra Reid. “It’s a great feeling but we just have to keep going. It’s nice to be going, but we want to win it all.”
Tickets for the game are $25 each and can be purchased online at the NCAA Web site (www.ncaa.com) or at Braly Stadium on game day.