Before this past Saturday, the South Carolina State football team was in position to take the lead in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
But with a 22-20 home loss to league-leading North Carolina A&T, the Bulldogs are now focused on the goal of an 8-win season, as they carry a 5-3 record (3-2 in MEAC play) with 3 games left to play.
"Saturday was not a good day for us; we had an opportunity and probably should have won the football game," SC State head coach Buddy Pough said on Monday, during his weekly in-season press conference. "Looking back at the video of it all, it becomes painfully more of a thought that we probably should have.
"A&T did what they needed to do to win the game. It was one of those games where you had to earn everything you got, and we couldn't quite earn enough to make it happen. So, we are on now to the next game, which is Howard."
Not only is this Saturday's home game inside Oliver C. Dawson Stadium a MEAC contest, but it is the final home game of the 2019 season.
"We are looking forward to Senior Day this Saturday, we have 22 guys who are leaving," Pough said. "We've got a couple of those guys who've got some eligibility left, that are saying they are graduating and going on into the work world or going into grad school and maybe playing somewhere else.
"The guys come in and ask me what I think. I'll tell them if I really think they should come back and help our team, or if I'll give them a recommendation, maybe even a really high recommendation to go to some of those places. It's an interesting time in our lives here at South Carolina State and in college football in general."
Saturday's home game against the Bison should be of interest to Bulldogs fans. Howard is 1-8 overall and 1-4 in the MEAC, giving SC State a good opportunity to pick up a win.
"We want to win out," Pough said. "We could win 8 games, and it's been a good while since we've won that many games around here.
"So, we've got a chance to have a good year. Who knows what might happen if we win out that way. We are still developing guys on this team, guys with high aspirations for the future. It's all about doing your best to put your best foot forward."
It has been 5 years since the Bulldogs finished a season with at least 8 wins. That season, SC State went 8-4. The past four seasons have finished with records of 7-4, 5-6, 3-7 and 5-6, respectively.
In fact, SC State's final three opponents this season currently have a combined season record of 8-19.
"In a loss, it's like having a death in your family, I'm telling you, it's hard," Pough said. "And the fact that we are kind of by that now and on to the next task is probably a good thing.
"South Carolina State is a pretty good place to play football at this level. You get some nice crowds and the atmosphere is good and it's a lot of fun playing in front of crowds like we had on Saturday."
Howard isn't the same team that came to Orangeburg in 2017 and gave the Bulldogs a 28-20 loss for homecoming, or even the team that picked up a 27-21 home win against the Bulldogs last season in Greensboro, N.C. Quarterback Caylin Newton entered the NCAA transfer portal this season and is no longer with the Bison. Also, former SC State assistant coach, Kansas State head coach and Detroit Lions assistant head coach Ron Prince is the new leader of the Howard program, in his first season with the school.
"With Howard coming in here, we better be ready to play," Pough said. "They will come in here and fight us. You can see that they're young as all get out and make mistakes, but it's not for lack of effort.
"Nobody's really got freshmen any more, since we've played 8 games and have played almost an entire season already. Those guys have enough experience now to come in here and hang with us."
The NC A&T win over SC State in the marquee game of the weekend caused slight shifts in both the BOXTOROW Coaches and Media Polls on Monday.
Florida A&M defeated Delaware State and the Rattlers remained No. 1 in both polls.
In the coaches poll, idle Alcorn State and A&T remained No. 2 and No. 3, respectively. No. 4 Bethune-Cookman and No. 5 Southern, coming off its win over Alabama A&M, each moved up one spot, while SC State dropped two spots to No. 6.
In the media poll, the top four spots remained the same, occupied by Florida A&M, Alcorn State, N.C. A&T and Bowie State, who remains undefeated. SC State moved from No. 5 to No. 6, flopping spots with the Bethune-Cookman team the Bulldogs defeated to finish October.