It isn’t going to turn the entire season around, but a win on Saturday against Hampton University in South Carolina State’s final home football game of the year would be important.
The 2-6 Bulldogs (1-5 in Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference contests) will be playing for much more than just a second conference win this season when the kickoff soars into the Orangeburg sky at 1:30 p.m.
They will be playing to send off 15 players with a home victory in their final game on the turf of Willie E. Jeffries Field inside Oliver C. Dawson Stadium.
The seniors, redshirt seniors and graduate student members of the S.C. State roster would like nothing more than to have final playing memories in Orangeburg culminate in another victory. And Bulldogs head coach Oliver “Buddy” Pough plans to make every coaching call he and his staff can to see that it happens.
Wins against Hampton at home and then at Savannah State would give S.C. State something to close out the campaign that it hasn’t enjoyed all season – a two-game win streak.
“We want to make sure we honor our seniors and put them in the best possible position to have success for the next couple weeks or so,” Pough said earlier this week. “It’s an exciting time to build toward, with a good Senior Day and honoring the ones who have put so much into our program.
“We need to be able to run the ball a bit and stop the run a bit, doing the things that South Carolina State football has become famous for over the years. If we do that, the winning will take care of itself.”
S.C. State last tasted victory more than a month ago, on Oct. 6 at home against Morgan State. Now the Bulldogs and those Bears who they got their last win against are holding up the MEAC standings from the bottom as two of three programs with one conference win apiece. Hampton, meanwhile, is tied for fourth place in the MEAC with a 4-2 conference record and a 5-4 overall record.
“This is going to be our last home game with some guys who are going to be tough guys to play without (after this season),” Pough said. “Darius Leonard, Dayshawn Taylor and Justin Evans.
“Mykal Moody and Trey Samuel, those are good football players and good people. The good people part is what we’re going to miss the most, when they are gone from us. We would like to do the very best job of sending them off on a positive, winning note in their last game here.”
With every tackle he makes from his linebacker slot in these final two games in a Bulldog uniform, Leonard – a redshirt senior from Lake View – will be adding to his S.C. State all-time tackles record total.
“It will be a sad day for all of us around here to see Darius play his final few quarters for us on this field,” Pough said. “He has been a special player for the entire time that he has been here; from his very first year here.
“There’s no doubt that we will miss what he has brought to our program and what he has done on the field. We think he is a sure shot to have every opportunity to play at the next level. There’s always a void here when those guys move on to the next part of their lives.”
Leonard, along with Evans at right tackle, was a preseason All-American selection. Both, along with Taylor at linebacker, graduate student Jason Baxter at free safety and senior Robbie Stephenson at right guard were named to the preseason All-MEAC First Team. Senior cornerback Devondre Powell, senior kicker Tyler Scandrett, redshirt senior defensive end Greg Newell and redshirt senior center Victor Ishmael Jr. were each named to the preseason All-MEAC Second Team.
“The best part of this deal is that six or seven of these guys will have completed their requirements to graduate by the end of this semester,” Pough said. “They can go out and make a good, solid living for the rest of their lives. That’s what this whole deal is about.
“We want to do a good job of sending our seniors off in a good way. But the seniors have to jump in there and take a part of that themselves, helping us get it done and play winning football. I’d like to talk about all the vulnerabilities I might see from Hampton, but it has a lot more to do with South Carolina State and what we do. We’ve got to handle our business, we’ve got to block better, we’ve got to be more consistent. Hampton is not going to come in here and hand us a football game.”
The Pirates bring a two-game losing skid to Orangeburg, having lost 24-21 at Bethune-Cookman on Oct. 28, before dropping a 14-6 game at home to North Carolina Central last Saturday.