Offense not an issue as North Carolina Central defeats Saint Augustine’s in home opener

North Carolina Central freshman wide receiver Tyler Barnes picks up yards after the catch during the first half versus Saint Augustine’s.
North Carolina Central freshman wide receiver Tyler Barnes picks up yards after the catch during the first half versus Saint Augustine’s. NCCU Athletics

A slow start, no problem. An even slower third quarter, still not an issue as North Carolina Central picked up its first win of the season, 51-14, over Saint Augustine’s.

It was the first career win for interim head coach Granville Eastman, who was rewarded with a Gatorade bath on the field to celebrate the moment.

“I’m very proud of our guys, they gave tremendous effort and we accomplished a lot of the goals we set out to do,” Eastman said. “Great win for the team, great win for NCCU. We had a little bit of a slow start, but once we made some plays the energy picked up.”

Junior quarterback Naiil Ramadan threw three first-half touchdown passes in his first career start, leading the Eagles (1-1) to a 23-7 lead at the break. Ramadan finished 15-for-28 for 169 yards, taking over for sophomore Chauncey Caldwell.

Ramadan, who came on in relief duty last season to lead the Eagles to a win over South Carolina State, saw his first two passes fall incomplete on the first drive of the game, but connected on five of his next eight, including the 13-yard score to redshirt freshman E.J. Hicks on the third drive of the opening quarter. Ramadan found out he was starting on Friday because Caldwell violated a team rule. Like he has done so many times since he’s been at NCCU, Ramadan was ready.

“I think it’s all about preparation,” Ramadan said. “Every week you just have to prepare the same way, you never know how things play out, so just staying prepared is the biggest thing.”

The Eagles’ defense forced a fumble that led to the next score for NCCU. Falcons’ quarterback D.J. Johnson put the ball on the ground deep in their own territory, and Eagles’ safety Jaquell Taylor fell on it on the 26-yard line. Two plays later Ramadan hit redshirt freshman tight end Sherman McLeod for a 13-yard score. Ramadan would connect with McLeod again with 11:13 remaining in the first half. That drive, which started at the Eagles’ 25, was the longest of the half, covering 75 yards in 10 plays. Ramadan was 6-for-7 on the scoring drive, his most productive drive of the evening.

The Eagles wrapped up their first half scoring with a Adam Lippy 36-yard field goal. SAU did get on the board before the half when Johnson connected with Jeremiah Miller for a 7-yard score.

NCCU’s defense got in on the scoring act in the third when junior safety Anthony Sherill intercepted a Johnson pass attempt and returned it 38-yards for a score, putting the Eagles ahead 30-7 after the PAT. Sherill said he was able to bait Johnson into throwing the ball right into his hands.

“They gave us a certain look on offense and I kind of figured what he wanted,” Sherill said. “It was something that offenses tend to want to do when they see a single receiver on the side, so I knew what he wanted to do in that specific down and distance.”

After PVAM had their way through the air most of the game last week against the Eagles, the NCCU defense wanted to make sure that didn’t happen in their home opener against the pass happy Falcons.

“I took it very personal,” Sherill said. “As a defense we stood together that can’t happen anymore. We felt like we had to make plays for everybody.”

Caldwell, who started the opener against Prairie View A&M, came on midway through the third, and threw two second half touchdown passes, the first one covering 48-yards to freshman Tyler Barnes. Midway through the fourth, Caldwell hit Nique Martin for a 24-yard score to make it 44-14 with 9:44 remaining.

It was the second time in his career that Ramadan threw at least two touchdowns in a single game, the fourth time for Caldwell, who finished 5-for-8 through the air for 105 yards.

The Eagles improve to 30-2-1 all-time over the Falcons, and have won the last six meetings. NCCU is now 11-2 against CIAA schools since leaving the league in 2007.