The chance get 5 wins in the final 6 games of the season is something that has the South Carolina State football team and head coach Buddy Pough inspired to finish strong.
The Bulldogs need to take a win at Norfolk State in their final regular-season game on Saturday to have a chance to win another Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title or possibly make the postseason playoffs.
"We need to win another ball game, now that we've gotten ourselves in to the meat of it all, into the stew," Pough said during his weekly in-season press conference on Monday. "We are excited as we can be.
"It is a lot of fun being a part of a team, at this time of the year, that's got a lot to play for. Our guys are enthusiastic and enjoying themselves. I'm happy for our seniors, the ones who have been here the last couple years when we've played pretty medium. Being a part of this is something special. I'm excited and looking forward to it."
The excitement comes from the Bulldogs being 7-3 overall, 5-2 in Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference play, with the opportunity to complete an 8-win season on Saturday with a win in Virginia.
A win by SC State, coupled with a loss by North Carolina A&T (7-3, 5-2) at North Carolina Central (4-7, 3-4), would give the Bulldogs the outright conference title. But with NCA&T holding the tiebreaker, by virtue of a 22-20 win in Orangeburg earlier this month, both teams winning would give the Aggies another MEAC championship.
The FCS Playoffs are still a possibility for the Bulldogs.
SC State received 10 votes in the STATS FCS Top 25 poll voting a week ago, having opened the season with a win against current No. 14 Wofford and posted a 6-2 record against FCS opponents since. But, after shutting out NC Central on Saturday on the road, SC State only garnered 8 votes in the poll this week, leaving the Bulldogs 13 spots out of the Top 15.
With MEAC unbeaten Florida A&M (9-1, 7-0) on self-imposed postseason probation, though ranked No. 12, and NC A&T (ranked No. 25) in line to get the MEAC's bid to the Celebration Bowl in Atlanta with a win at Central on Saturday, those two teams are likely both out of the FCS Playoff picture. But, with only 24 spots available, it would help SC State to win Saturday and have a few teams with better rankings take a loss.
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Taking care of their own business this past Saturday in Durham, N.C., with a 24-0 shutout of the Eagles was imperative for a strong finish to the schedule.
"We beat Central up on Saturday," Pough said. "It was cold and windy.
"We kept getting the ball with short fields and we couldn't get it in for scores, other than early, when Corey (Fields) hit De'Montrez Burroughs (13th receiving TD this season, tying Freddie Solomon's 1994 school record and Solomon's career record of 20) on a corner ball and we got a score, going up 7-0 almost before we got off the bus good. From that point, it's a struggle. We keep the ball mostly the entire game, but we didn't take advantage of some of the opportunities we had to score the rest of the way. But, any time you shut a team out in today's college football game, you've done something pretty special."
Leaning on redshirt junior tailback LaBron Morris and his 135 yards rushing and 2 touchdowns later in the game was key for the Bulldogs to keep the momentum and increase the lead.
"Our defensive front guys, Paul McKiever, Tyrell Goodwin, Rod Perry and Bruce Johnson, those guys got after it, along with our linebackers Chad (Gilchrist), Cornelius (Walker) and Jablonski (Green), B.J. Davis, they played well, along with our secondary," Pough said. "Jaydon Brunson (sophomore defensive back) is going to have surgery on his arm soon, he is done for the year. So, that's another one of those next-man-up situations for this year.
"The injuries are piling up toward the end of the year. But, the fact that we have something to play for makes the next guy happy that he is getting to play more and he has this opportunity; not so much happy that a teammate is injured."
Even so, there will be widespread disappointment among Bulldog Nation if SC State finishes an 8-win season only to watch Furman (lost to Wofford, didn't finish tied for its conference title), Wofford, Kennesaw State and others invited to the postseason, without the Bulldogs being in the mix.
"Somebody needs to remember that South Carolina State beat Wofford somewhere back when, earlier this season," Pough said. "We don't seem to have anyone who has a recollection of that fact out there.
"We go off that win and, besides the South Florida fiasco, the only (FCS) teams we lose to are Florida A&M by 4 points and North Carolina A&T by 2 points. We've shown ourselves to be competitive with all the top teams we've played and we feel like we are deserving to be in the playoff. It should be a no-brainer that we get in, apart from the fact that the MEAC does not have a representative (with an automatic bid). Yes, we need to be in, we should be in."
IN TOP 4 OF POLLS
In this week's BOXTOROW HBCU Football Coaches Poll, SC State moved from No. 3 to No. 4, behind No. 1 FAMU, No. 2 Alcorn State (7-3, 7 spots out of the STATS FCS Poll) and No. 3 NCA&T. In this week's BOXTOROW HBCU Media Poll, SC State remained at No. 3, behind FAMU and undefeated Bowie State (11-0).