Bears hungry for title

Back-to-back crowns in reach

CorrespondentNovember 7, 2008 

— The Shaw Bears have another chance at history.

After becoming the first team last year in CIAA history to win a football championship in two separate divisions (Eastern and Western), the Bears now seek to win their first back-to-back titles in school history.

Shaw will defend its title against Elizabeth City State of the Eastern Division at 1 p.m. Saturday at Durham County Stadium.

In 2004, playing in the Eastern Division, the Bears (7-3, 6-1 CIAA) won their first title since reinstating football in 2002. After N.C. Central left the conference in 2006 to move up to the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision, Shaw was moved to the CIAA's Western Division.

The next year, the Bears won a second football championship.

A win Saturday, Shaw coach Darrell Asberry said, would put the icing on the cake.

"To win the West back-to-back and be in the championship back-to-back, something Shaw has never done before, would be a testament of how hard we've worked and how good a football team we are," Asberry said.

To do that, though, the Bears will have to claw through a very good Elizabeth City State team. After losing three of their first four games, the Vikings (7-3, 7-0) have won six straight behind the CIAA's offensive player of the year, quarterback Curtis Rich, who has thrown for 1,861 yards, 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions -- third-best in the league.

But Curtis hasn't seen many defenses like Shaw's. The Bears ended the regular season with the No. 1 defense in Division II, holding opponents to 213.6 yards per game.

Led by senior defensive lineman Louis Ellis, who was chosen the CIAA's defensive player of the year for the second consecutive year, Shaw is giving up only 42 rushing yards a game.

But if there is a "weakness" in Shaw's defensive armor, it's in the pass defense, where the Bears rank only seventh in the CIAA.

"It's going to take 60 minutes of hard-fought football," ECSU coach Waverly Tillar said. "They are a great team, but on any given Saturday, the team making the fewest mistakes will probably prevail."

The Vikings are no strangers to the championship game either. ECSU advanced in 2006 but lost to N.C. Central on a last-second field goal. Coincidentally, Asberry was the Eagles' offensive coordinator then.

Tillar said he still hasn't gotten over the loss, and Asberry said being the champion works in their favor.

"We know how it tastes, and they don't have a clue how it tastes," Asberry said. "They can't miss nothing they've never had."

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