On the heels of a perfect run through the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association regular season and playoffs, the Bowie State University football team looked to carry that momentum into Saturday’s NCAA Division II first round contest against Carson-Newman University of Tennessee.
After yielding an early 63-yard touchdown strike from quarterback Tyler Thackerson to wide receiver Braxton Westfield, Bowie State countered with a 92-yard drive capped by a 33-yard toss from quarterback Ja’Rome Johnson to receiver Dushon David that brought the Bulldogs even at 7-all.
Bowie State then capped the first quarter scoring in genuine rare fashion as freshman linebacker Jonathan Ross, a St. Charles High School graduate from Waldorf, recorded a safety when he tackled Thackerson in the end zone.
Ross and his teammates had focused on Thackerson and the Eagles’ option attack all week and his defensive play in the waning seconds of the first quarter gave the hosts a 9-7 lead that lasted to the intermission. Carson-Newman, however, would score the only second-half points of the contest to end the Bulldogs’ season with a 17-9 win.
“I learned a lot from the seniors,” said Ross, whose former Spartans head coach, Avery Williams, is now the defensive line coach at Bowie State. “We wanted to send them out with a championship. We won the CIAA, but we wanted to win the national championship. We made plays, but we just didn’t finish.”
Bowie State (11-1 overall) attained more first downs (21) than Carson-Newman (14) and limited the Eagles’ potent ground game to 226 yards on 51 attempts, roughly 40 percent below their seasonal average. Johnson completed 16 of 34 passes for 263 yards and one score, but he also threw two interceptions in the end zone in the second half.
“We were able to move the ball and we held their rushing game to about one-half what they usually get,” Bowie State head coach Damon Wilson said. “We just didn’t finish. We had a couple of costly turnovers and we missed a couple of field goals. But in the end, this was a special senior class. We came into this game undefeated and that’s tough to do in the CIAA.”
Ross finished the game with four solo tackles and six total with one-half of a sack and one safety, which occurred on a running play. Fellow freshman Jordan Carter, a Lackey High School graduate from Bryans Road, had six solo tackles and seven total for the Bulldogs. Bowie State’s defense did a commendable job against the Carson-Newman option, but running back Antonio Wimbush did much of the damage up the middle, carrying 18 times for 146 yards and one touchdown.
“We knew they liked to run the ball outside a lot,” Ross said. “I thought we did a good job keeping them contained. We just needed to get a few more stops to give our offense a better chance. This was a great learning experience. I know we’ll come back stronger next year.”
Carson-Newman (9-2) claimed the lead for good when the Eagles marched 55 yards in 14 plays and scored on a 47-yard field goal by Nate Craft midway through the third quarter. Craft had just come up short on a 52-yard field goal attempt late in the first half, but his kick midway through the third quarter gave the visitors an advantage they would never relinquish.
Carson-Newman gained some breathing room when Thackerson connected with Wimbush on a screen pass that netted 62 yards on the last play of the third quarter.
Then four plays later, it was Wimbush who scored from 10 yards out to give the visitors a 17-9 lead. The Eagles’ defense bent over the last 13 minutes, but refused to break.
Bowie State had two long drives in the fourth quarter, but neither ended with points. On the first drive, Johnson converted on third down and 20 and third down and 25, but his last pass of the drive was intercepted.
On the Bulldogs’ next drive, Johnson again led the team to the doorstep of the end zone only to be denied by a second interception with 2:40 remaining.
Nineteen players from Southern Maryland are listed on the Bulldogs’ 2019 roster with at least one from each county.
“We’re already building for next year,” Wilson said. “We want to recruit the whole state of Maryland. We’ve been getting some guys from the Southern Maryland schools to come up here. We’re focused on getting players in here from across the state. We have a lot of young talent and returning players to build around.”
SMAC graduates headed to second round
Bowie State is not the only team in the NCAA Division II tournament featuring Southern Maryland players.
Jack Pilkerton, a La Plata High School graduate from La Plata, who coincidentally spent one season as a redshirt freshman at Bowie State, caught a 6-yard touchdown pass with 44 seconds left in regulation to give Kutztown of Pennsylvania a 33-31 win over Tiffin of Ohio on Saturday.
Pilkerton had seven receptions for 105 yards and two touchdowns. The two scores now give Pilkerton 10 for the season, which, according to Kutztown athletics, makes him the eighth player in school history with 10 or more touchdown catches in a season and first since 2015.
Pilkerton and Kutztown will take on Notre Dame of Ohio in a second round contest on Saturday after Notre Dame defeated West Chester of Pennsylvania on Saturday, 31-24. Notre Dame has Jayson Wilmer, a Lackey High School graduate from Indian Head, on its roster.
Shepherd University of West Virginia is moving on to the second round of the tournament with a 31-27 win over Indiana of Pennsylvania on Saturday, scoring the game-winning touchdown with 11 seconds remaining.
The team has seniors Hassan Marshall (a Thomas Stone High School from Waldorf), Shaquan Dyson (a Leonardtown High School graduate from Leonardtown) and Greg Leonard (a Patuxent High School graduate from Lusby) and freshmen Avaughn Holley (a McDonough High School graduate from Pomfret) and Nicholas Reynolds (a Huntingtown High School graduate from Chesapeake Beach) on its roster.
Shepherd advances to play Slippery Rock of Pennsylvania in a second round contest on Saturday.