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The South Carolina State football team was glad to be back on the field and playing its home-opening game of the season on Saturday night inside Oliver C. Dawson Stadium.

But, the result wasn’t quite as pleasing, as the Norfolk State Spartans (2-1 record) finished off a 17-7 win, dropping the Bulldogs to 0-3 on the season.

The home team’s defense settled in during the second half of play, but two early touchdowns by the visitors set up too much of a deficit for a retooled offense to overcome.

“We didn’t do enough soon enough, just didn’t do enough in the first half to find our way and find ourselves,” S.C. State head football coach Buddy Pough said. “When we finally got to the point of moving the ball, we shot ourselves in the foot with mistakes.

“I was worried coming into this week, because I knew Norfolk was pretty good. They came in with energy and got after us. We didn’t quite mix it up well in the first half, didn’t throw the ball much at all. Then, after we got behind 14-0, I was pleased with our defense with how they responded and kept bending but not breaking. It’s a tough loss. But, we’ve got to rebound and go play A&T.”

Next up, there’s a quick turnaround for the Bulldogs, who travel to play the top-ranked HBCU team in the nation, North Carolina A&T, on Thursday, Sept. 27. The Aggies lost to Morgan State, 16-13, on Saturday night.

Bulldogs sophomore quarterback Tyrece Nick led the team with a 14-for-23 passing night that included an interception and a touchdown, while collecting 199 yards through the air. Nick also led S.C. State with 68 yards rushing on 19 carries. No other back ran the ball more than 8 times.

Sophomore quarterback Juwan Carter led the NSU offense, passing for 281 yards on a 22-for-38 night that resulted in one interception and one touchdown. He also ran for a touchdown.

The Spartans got on the scoreboard first, making their second possession of the game count. Carter connected with Chuma Awanna on a 39-yard passing play to key a drive that lasted 1:55 and took 6 plays to go 76 yards. With 8:20 left in the first quarter, Carter found Isaiah Winstead for a 6-yard touchdown pass to finish the scoring sequence. Josh Nardone added the PAT kick for a 7-0 Spartans’ lead.

On the ensuing series for S.C. State, the Bulldogs moved the ball near midfield. But a sack of Nick by linebacker Michael Kwegyir-Attah, followed by an incomplete pass on third down, forced a punt.

The Spartans then put together a long 10-play drive that covered 62 yards and took 5:53 seconds, before Carter called his own number at the 1-foot line for a touchdown run with 12:40 left in the second quarter. Nardone added the PAT for a 14-0 lead.

At that point, the Bulldogs had more questions than answers about how they would find some offensive spark. Meanwhile, Norfolk State enjoyed the momentum in a road game heading toward the half. The home team managed just 5 first downs in the opening half, while the Spartans collected 11 first downs.

Early in the third quarter, the Bulldogs made a big play on defense. Near midfield, S.C. State defensive lineman Xavier Johnson knocked the ball out of Carter’s hand before he could throw a pass. Johnson recovered the fumble for the home team at the Norfolk’ 39-yard line.

Things looked better for the Bulldogs, until five plays later, when a pass from Nick was intercepted by free safety Nhyre’ Quinerly in the end zone. He returned the pick to the Norfolk’ 23-yard line, ending the scoring opportunity for S.C. State.

The Bulldogs’ defense forced a punt on the following drive, setting up the lone scoring series for the home team. It only took three plays for the S.C. State offense to cover 80 yards in just 1:06. Two penalties backed up the drive before it ever got started. Then Nick delivered a pass down the home sideline, finding junior wide receiver De’Montrez Burroughs (5 receptions for 105 yards) behind the Spartans’ defense near the S.C. State’ 44-yard line for an 81-yard scoring pass play. Freshman kicker Dillon Bredesen added the PAT at the 1:07 mark of the third quarter, for a 14-7 score.

A three-and-out forced by the Bulldogs kept the momentum swinging toward the home team, as the final seconds of the third quarter ticked away. S.C. State then started a drive from their 38-yard line. It looked as though the Bulldogs would punch in a second straight score on a second straight offensive possession, but Nick was stripped of the ball on a 2nd-and-four play inside the Spartans’ 14-yard line. Quinerly forced the fumble and Bobby Price recovered it for the visitors with 13:30 left to play.

That set up an 8-play scoring drive that covered 86 yards and culminated in a 29-yard field goal by Nardone with 3:01 left, for the 17-7 final.

Redshirt sophomore linebacker Chad Gilchrist led the Bulldogs with 11 tackles, including 1.5 tackles for losses. Grad student defensive back Chris Adams added 7 tackles, including one for a loss.

Dale Craig led Norfolk State with 7 tackles, including 2 sacks.

Norfolk State totaled 132 rushing yards, while S.C. State had 124 rushing yards. Aaron Savage led the Spartans with 79 rushing yards.

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