A week after playing and winning an in-state rivalry game, North Carolina Central throws itself right back into the middle of another one.
The Eagles, who upset prohibitive Big South favorite North Carolina A&T in the Duke’s Mayo Classic, face on Saturday Winston-Salem State in Durham.
NCCU head coach Trei Oliver, who was part of many matchups against the Rams as a player, embraced yet another challenge.
“Usually, I think a lot of times it is kind of hard to play those games back-to-back,” Oliver said earlier this week. “I think we have a much more mature team now that can handle that.
“When I was in school it was as big as the N.C. A&T rivalry. And we were in the same conference back then. I don’t know what the student-athletes are doing with it now because of the change of conference and us being FCS and them being Division II.”
On the other side, Winston-Salem State is trying to bounce back after a Week 1 loss to Central State in the Black College Football Hall of Fame Classic on Sunday night.
Despite the setback, the rivalry still burns for Robert Massey, a former North Carolina Central great, who now is the Rams’ head coach.
“It’s always been a great rivalry,” Massey told the Winston-Salem Journal. “It’s a love-hate relationship; when we are on the field they can’t stand us and we can’t stand them.”
The Rams, however, could be without starting quarterback Dominique Graves.
The graduate suffered an injury against Central State and was reportedly in a walking boot and listed as doubtful for Saturday’s game. Richard Latimer, who went 14-of-22 for 133 yards and two touchdowns last week, would get the start if Graves can’t go.
Whoever is on the field won’t matter, though is a feud that goes back several decades. The disparity in level and roster size didn’t play a significant role in what was a tight 20-13 win by the Eagles a year ago.
WSSU versus NCCU on its own usually provides all the motivation for both teams.
“And when we come in, we have to execute, we have to pay attention to detail,” said Oliver. “The only difference between the rivalry this week is it’s going to be a home game.”