By Donal Ware
College Sports Journal
FLORENCE, AL. — The Winston-Salem State Rams are just one game away from doing something that no other Division II HBCU football program has ever done.
Win a national championship.
The Rams (14-0) have already done something that no other HBCU football program has done and that is to win 14 games in a season, besting their own mark from last year when they won 13 games. They are the defending Boxtorow HBCU football champions.
Two other HBCU football programs have won national championships. Florida A&M won the first ever NCAA Division I-AA championship in 1978.
The last HBCU to win a national championship was Central State, winning the NAIA national championship in 1995 under current Jackson State head football coach Rick Comegy.
As a matter of fact, the Marauders also won the NAIA title in 1990 and 1992 and is the last HBCU to play in the Division II national title, finishing runner-ups in 1983.
Winston-Salem State has made it to the national championship game by defeating West Texas A&M at home last week 40-18.
The Valdosta State Blazers are Saturday’s opponent and have championship pedigree.
The Blazers (11-2) have won two national championships in 2004 — under current Murray State and former Georgia Southern coach Chris Hatcher — and 2007.
Since head coach David Dean took over from Hatcher in 2007, the Blazers are 53-17.
Valdosta State has a formidable rushing attack led by Cedric O’Neal who has rushed for 1,058 yards and 13 touchdowns and is averaging 6.8 yards per carry, and Austin Scott who has rushed for 992 yards, nine touchdowns and averages six yards per carry.
Throw in quarterback Cayden Cochran’s 336 yards rushing and nine touchdowns and the Blazers average 220 yards rushing per game.
Cochran is an accurate passer completing 64 percent of his passes for 2,601 yards, 24 touchdowns and eight interceptions. His primary targets are Gerald Ford (68-1018-13) and Regginald Lewis (52-712-4).
He also has a big play receiver in Seantavious Jones who averages 18.7 yards per reception and has 13 touchdowns.
Throughout the course of the season and even going back to last season, so much has been made of the Rams offense.
But it has been the defense that has been the staple the last two years and has been stellar this year in the playoffs.
All three of the Rams playoff opponents have had similar offensive numbers to the Blazers. WSSU has forced opposing quarterbacks into seven interceptions and have forced nine turnovers.
Linebacker Carlos Fields, the CIAA Defensive Player of the Year, has been one of the big keys with 28 tackles (24 solo).
The Rams will need to put pressure on Cochran and have done well pressuring quarterbacks to this point, totaling 10 sacks n the playoffs.
On defense the Blazers give up 349 yards of total offense per game. The unit has played better in the playoffs and while last week they gave up 436 yards to Minnesota State, they only gave up 19 points in their victory.
The unit is also an opportunistic bunch, forcing opponents into 31 turnovers.
If the Rams can protect the football, they should have success offensively.
After coming back from injury and off the bench to lead the Rams to the 21-17 come from behind victory over Indiana of Pennsylvania two weeks ago, quarterback Kameron Smith picked up where he left off prior to his injury, completing 15-of-23 passes for 233 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions last week.
Smith is completing 61 percent of his passes for 3,043 yards, 42 touchdowns and nine interceptions on the season.
But it was the running game that was dominant as the Rams rushed for 261 yards and four touchdowns.
The Blazer have championships. The Rams are looking to get their first.
Like Dean, Rams head coach Connell Maynor is used to winning. WSSU is 34-3 in the last three years under Maynor with two CIAA championships.
As offensive coordinator at Fayetteville State he helped lead the Broncos to three CIAA championships.
He helped to lead the Philadelphia Soul to the Arena Bowl XXII World Championship in 2008 as the offensive coordinator.
Maynor has also earned six championships as a quarterback including a CIAA championship in 1987 at Winston-Salem State, a MEAC championship in 1991 at North Carolina A&T, and four Arena Bowl championships – 1993 and 1994 with the Tampa Bay Storm and 1998 and 2000 with the Orlando Predators.
Can the Rams make history? They have a good opportunity to do so.
The game can be seen on ESPN2 at Noon ET on Saturday live from Florence, AL.
Editor's Note: Donal Ware is one of the leading voices in Historically Black College and University football. His Boxtorow.com website, popular articles for such publications as Jet magazine and regular radio shows for such networks as Sirius/XM have given him a high profile in the college and professional sports world. You can read more of his material at Boxtorow.com