For the third straight time, the Bowie State Bulldogs will face the Fayetteville State Broncos in the CIAA championship game on Saturday.
While Bowie State is looking for its third straight win in three appearances, Fayetteville State is looking for its first win in four straight appearances.
The Broncos have not won a CIAA championship game since 2009 coincidentally beating the Bulldogs in that contest.
Fayetteville State will attempt from becoming the first team to lose four consecutive CIAA championship games since Winston-Salem State did it from 1983-1986.
For the first time, however, both teams will enter this matchup finishing the season unbeaten in conference play going a perfect 7-0.
Let’s break down how each team could come away victorious as we preview this year’s CIAA championship game.
Also read: CIAA releases 2021 All-Conference football teams, honors
How Bowie State will win its third straight CIAA title
With this being the Bulldog’s third straight CIAA championship appearance, an argument could be made that this is the program’s best team from top to bottom.
On offense, their run game led the way averaging a CIAA-high 196.7 yards per game and scoring 22 touchdowns. They also defended the run well allowing a conference low 84.4 rushing yards per game.
They will be tested on the ground against Fayetteville State as the Broncos allowed the fewest rushing touchdowns this season (6).
However, the Bulldogs’ special teams do not get enough credit as they played a vital role in the team’s success so far.
Punter Kenny Amaya led the CIAA; pinning the opposing team in their own 20-yard line 16 times and forcing 14 fair catches.
On the return side, BSU was one of only two teams that scored multiple punt returns for touchdowns, one of which came off a blocked punt.
Despite the undefeated conference record, things were not all peaches and cream for the Bulldogs. There are some factors that may not bode well for them going into Saturday.
One of the team’s biggest problems has been protecting quarterback Ja’Rome Johnson. Johnson was sacked 32 times which in part explains why he threw seven interceptions (second-most in CIAA).
On defense for the Bulldogs, getting after the quarterback could prove difficult as Fayetteville State gave up just 13 sacks tied for the fewest in the conference.
The Bulldogs were also the second-most penalized team in the conference, committing 97 penalties during the season which resulted in 28 first downs for the opposing team. Meanwhile, Fayetteville State committed the second-fewest penalties with just 55.
If Bowie State is not disciplined in this game, the Bulldogs could end up handing the game over to Fayetteville State.
How Fayetteville State will get over the hump
The common denominator in all three of Fayetteville State’s championship losses has been the team’s inability to get stops early.
The Broncos were down 21-0 at the end of the first quarter in 2017, they were down 21-3 at halftime in 2018, and were down 14-0 at the end of the first in 2019.
Fayetteville State had three defensive players selected to the All-CIAA First Team (more than any other team in the conference). Those players will need to make their presence felt early in the Broncos want any chance at winning.
The Broncos were one of the top passing teams in the CIAA this season. If they are able to have a big day through the air they could put up a performance against the Bulldogs akin to Virginia State’s against them.
Not to mention, the Broncos also had a very good run offense averaging 156.6 rushing yards per game — the third highest in the conference.
Bowie State’s defense has been susceptible to giving up big plays, including giving up 505 offensive yards against Virginia State, surrendering 80-plus yard kick returns for touchdowns against Virginia State and Virginia Union, and allowing 231 passing yards against Lincoln.
This bodes well for a Fayetteville State team that averaged a CIAA-leading 9.2 yards per pass attempt.
At the same time, Bowie had the best pass defenses in the conference tying for the most interceptions (11) while allowing the second-fewest pass touchdowns (6) and recording the second-most sacks (35).
Another hurdle that Fayetteville State will need to get over is its kicking woes. The team missed 10 of its 33 PAT attempts this season — the second-most misses of any team and the third-worst PAT percentage.
There is no way the Broncos are victorious leaving points on the board, especially on PAT attempts.
Players to Watch
Calil Wilkins, RB
Calil Wilkins was a huge reason for the success of the Bulldogs’ offense. After a slow start through the first four games averaging just 50.3 rushing yards and scoring just one touchdown, he surely picked up the pace down the stretch. In the remaining six games, he averaged 123.7 rushing yards including five games with over 100 yards and scored seven touchdowns. While Ja’Rome Johnson will also play a critical role in the Bulldogs getting a win, provided he is able to take care of the ball and make big plays. Wilkins having a big game will do wonders in opening up opportunities for the offense to put points on the board.
Trio of DLs
Bowie State’s defensive line trio of Joshua Pryor, Jonathan Ross and Joseph Murray are a big part of the Bulldogs’ deep defense. Together they accounted for 19 of the team’s 35 sacks, 43 of the team’s 96.5 tackles for loss, and seven (Ross had five) of the team’s 13 forced fumbles. They will be playing against a Fayetteville State offensive line that had two players selected to the All-CIAA First Team.
Offensive Line, Fayetteville State
Speaking of Fayetteville State’s offensive line, they will need to be at their best playing against the top defensive line in the conference. While the onus will be on K’Hari Lane to make the big plays, the offensive line will have the responsibility of giving him time in the pocket. If the Broncos let Bowie’s defensive front run free, Lane could be spending much of the game running for his life keeping the Broncos’ offense out of sync.
Defensive Linemen not named Keyshawn James,
This entry may sound weird but all the defensive linemen not named Keyshawn James will need to be on their “A” game in order for their team to win. The Bulldogs’ offensive line will have the CIAA Defensive Player of the Year in their game plan, especially when looking to establish their run game. With all the attention going to James, the rest of the line will need to step up and make big plays when available to force Bowie to make adjustments and open lanes up for James. If they are able to do so, Fayetteville State could hoist up the CIAA championship trophy when all is said and done.
Bowie State 31-21
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