Ezra, Gray, Alabama State
Photo: ASU Athletics

Heading into week five of the HBCU football season, the race to a conference championship season continues to heat up as teams get deeper into their conference schedule.

With 14 conference games across the CIAA, SIAC and SWAC, we could see some significant changes in the standings and an end of the season trajectory at the conclusion of the weekend.

In addition, an old rivalry will be renewed when an old MEAC face returns to battle its regional foe.

Here are the five games to watch in week five of the HBCU football season.

Shaw Bears at Virginia Union Panthers

In the only game this weekend in the CIAA between two teams with winning records, the Shaw Bears, representing the CIAA South, face the CIAA North’s Virginia Union Panthers.

This is a matchup between two teams that are potential X-factors in their respective division each looking to snap long droughts without a CIAA championship.

In what will be a theme of this list, many of these matchups will feature two teams that have strong running games and this one is no different.

Each of these two teams rank in the top three in rushing in the CIAA with Shaw posting a conference-leading 198 rushing yards per game and Virginia Union third at 149.3 rushing yards.

Each team’s leading rusher, Jada Byers for Virginia Union and Sidney Gibbs for Shaw, are tied for the most rushing yards per game and rushing touchdowns in the CIAA so far this season.

Both of these teams are also among the top defenses in the CIAA with Shaw tied for the lowest points allowed per game and Virginia Union leading in interceptions.

The winner of this game will have made a huge statement to the CIAA that they are a serious threat to their respective division’s favorite’s chances of getting to the conference championship game.

Norfolk State Spartans at Hampton Pirates

In the only true rivalry game of the weekend, the Norfolk State Spartans take a trip up the road to face the Hampton Pirates in the Battle of the Bay.

This will be these team’s first matchup against each other since 2017 when Hampton began the process of leaving the MEAC to eventually join the Big South.

These two teams’ history between each other began when Norfolk State joined the CIAA. The Spartans began the rivalry with a run of dominance winning 15 of the first 18 games dating from 1963-1980.

After racking up more wins as years went by, Hampton had a run of dominance of their own down the road winning 13 of 15 matchups from 1992-2006.

The last time these two teams faced off, Hampton took a 16-14 win on Norfolk State’s home field. Although, prior to that game, Norfolk State had won the previous three contests.

Also read: Juwan Carter rallies Norfolk State past Saint Francis for second-straight win

Norfolk State is also coming off a win defeating Saint Francis 28-16 while Hampton is returning from an idle week following a win in another rivalry game defeating the Howard Bison 48-32.

Norfolk State is led by one of the top quarterbacks in all of FCS, Juwan Carter, tied for seventh in passing touchdowns this season. He is the only quarterback in the MEAC with at least 10 touchdowns and completing 60% of his passes.

Spartans’ receiver Justin Smith is leading the conference in receiving touchdowns and is one of only two players in the MEAC that has scored more than one receiving touchdown.

While the defense has been a struggle for the Spartans so far, defensive lineman Chris Myers has played well tying for the most total sacks in the MEAC (3.0).

Hampton is among the top run offenses in the FCS averaging 243.3 rushing yards per game; ranked 12th in the FCS and second in the Big South.

The Pirates are the only team in the Big South with three players that have scored at least two rushing touchdowns.

Albany State Golden Rams at Miles Golden Bears

In one of two key SIAC matchups this weekend, the Albany State Golden Rams travel to Fairfield, Alabama to face the reigning SIAC champion Miles Golden Bears.

Both teams are coming off blowout wins including an Albany State 49-0 shutout against Clark Atlanta while Miles dismantled Central State by the odd score of 55-4.

That win for the Golden Rams was their second shutout win so far this season as they have won three of their first four games of the season.

For the Golden Bears, following valiant unsuccessful performances against back-to-back SWAC opponents, they have won each of their first two games against conference opponents.

Both teams have strong run games each ranking in the top four in the conference in rushing yards per game with Miles averaging 207.2 and Albany State averaging 166.0.

On defense, both of these teams are in the top three in total offensive yards allowed with Albany State leading allowing 231.5 yards and Miles third with

Albany State has given up the fewest offensive touchdowns and is the only team that has yet to give up a rushing touchdown so far this season.

Miles’ special teams will be an X-factor in the game as they are one of only two teams that has scored multiple punt return touchdowns in the SIAC so far this season.

Savannah State Tigers at Kentucky State Thorobreds

Two of the top run offenses in all of Division II football clash in Frankfort, Kentucky when the Savannah State Tigers go up against the Kentucky State Thorobreds.

Both teams are coming off wins with Savannah State beating Morehouse and Kentucky State narrowly beating Benedict in the Circle City Classic.

Both of these teams are amongst the top 25 run offenses in Division II football with Kentucky State ranking 12th in rushing yards per game and Savannah State ranking 23rd.

After losing their season opener against Valdosta State, Savannah State has won each of its last three games with their last two coming against SIAC opponents.

Quarterback D’Vonn Gibbons has been a huge catalyst for the Tigers’ success on offense averaging 113 rushing yards in each of the team’s last two games including a 138 rushing yard two-touchdown performance against Benedict.

Against Morehouse, Gibbons had his best passing performance so far this season going 5-for-8 passing with 131 passing yards and a touchdown.

On defense, Savannah State gives up the fewest rushing yards in the SIAC allowing 77.2 rushing yards per game although they have given up six touchdowns.

In Kentucky State’s game against Benedict, the Thorobreds recorded all 450 of their total offensive yards on the ground led by running back Brett Sylve.

Sylve had one of the best games of his career recording tying a career-best with 178 rushing yards scoring two touchdowns. Sylve ranks second in the SIAC averaging 79.8 rushing yards per game adding three touchdowns.

Alabama State Hornets at Florida A&M Rattlers

The Florida A&M Rattlers look to secure their first conference win of the season since joining the SWAC when they welcome the Alabama State Hornets to Bragg Stadium.

While Alabama State’s offense is headed by running back Ezra Gray, Florida A&M is headed by a tandem of running backs, Bishop Bonnett and Terrell Jennings.

Both Bonnett and Jennings are each in the top 10 in the SWAC in rushing yards per game while Gray is one spot out of the top 10 in that category.

Both defenses are also topics of conversation with Florida A&M ranking second in points allowed while Alabama State leads the conference in total sacks.

The Hornets defense is led by a freshman defensive back Rodney Echols who has started off his college career on a spectacular putting up 2.5 sacks, 2.5 tackles for loss, and a forced fumble.

While Markquese Bell gets the mainstream attention on the Rattlers defense, it’s been graduate defensive end and Florida State transfer Deonte Williams that has made a name for himself putting up 2.0 sacks, 4.0 tackles for loss, and a forced fumble.


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