By Mark F. Gray
AFRO Staff Writer
For the first time this season Bowie State University (BSU) needed their offense to bail them out, but it wasn’t meant to be. After a perfect regular season where the defense made the difference and the offense was efficient, the Bulldogs lost in the first round of the Division II playoffs, which they hosted for the second year in a row.
While BSU ranked No. 11 coming into their third straight national appearance in the playoffs, the Bulldogs fell to No. 25 Carson Newman 17-9 to end their season on campus. Despite the disappointing conclusion, BSU finished the season with an 11-1 record, which is the best in the history of the program as was the final place in the polls. The loss capped a season where the Bulldogs won a second-consecutive CIAA Championship and garnered conference offensive and defensive player of the year awards, yet it wasn’t enough for them to extend the season.
“You have to enjoy the things that you have accomplished, and I’m going to make sure I do that, and I’m going to make sure the guys do that,” said Bowie State Coach Damon Wilson. “When it’s time to go back to work, winter workouts, that sort of thing, we’ll be ready to roll.”
The Bulldogs rolled to 410 yards of total offense while holding Carson Newman to 347. During the CIAA season, when BSU held an advantage in total yards, they were able to mix several big plays that could swing the momentum of the game.
But the Bulldogs marched into the Eagles’ red zone five times and came away empty. BSU missed two field goals and were stopped on downs inside the five yard line twice. Ultimately, an interception with less than three minutes remaining basically ended their dream season.
“I wouldn’t say they shut us down. We didn’t execute in the red zone and played a sloppy game,” said Wilson. “We lost a game to a very good football team.”
Carson Newman beat BSU at their game. They kept Ja’Rome Johnson – CIAA’s Offensive Player of the Year – from electrifying the crowd with any of the back breaking run plays that frustrated his conference rivals during the regular season. Johnson ran for 95 yards, but never made his way into the end zone with his feet. He did manage to help the Bulldogs even the score by connecting with his all-CIAA tight end DuShon David for a 33-yard touchdown midway through the first quarter.
Bowie State’s defense gave them their only lead when redshirt freshman Jonathan Ross sacked Carson Newman quarterback Tyler Thackerson in the end zone for a safety and they would take 9-7 lead into halftime.
The Eagles’ offense ultimately did what the CIAA teams couldn’t do against Bowie State’s defense this year. They controlled the clock with a relentless running attack behind Antonio Wimbush who finished with a game high 143 yards and broke the game open with two big passing plays.
Thackerson found Braxton Westfield on a 63-yard pass on the game’s first possession to give the Eagles their first lead. Nate Craft’s third quarter 47-yard field goal gave Carson Newman the lead for good. Wimbush’s fourth quarter touchdown then put the game on ice.