Johnson C. Smith has a thin history of football supremacy in the CIAA – one conference championship in 101 years, in 1969.
Coach Steve Aycock is trying to change that.
The Golden Bulls – rarely consistent winners – showed a glimpse of what they could become last season by tying for second place in the Southern Division. They recovered from a 63-7 flattening by Winston-Salem State to win their final four games, and they’re 4-1 this season (2-1 CIAA) and coming off a 49-10 victory against Lincoln (Pa.).
Aycock and his more experienced Bulls will get another crack against two-time defending CIAA champion Winston-Salem State, ranked 16th in Division II, at 1:30p.m. Saturday at Bowman Gray Stadium.
“We’re excited about the challenge,” said Aycock, who is in his fifth season. “You try and tell the kids that it’s a big game because it’s our next game, but this one is different for a lot of reasons.”
The Rams have won the past 12 meetings, but Aycock doesn’t bog down his players with that kind of information.
“We don’t talk about the history,” he said. “It’s about today and this week, and what we can do to get better and to be in the right frame of mind when game day rolls around.”
The Rams (4-1, 2-0) haven’t lost a CIAA game since November 2010.
Despite the 6-4 record in 2012, Johnson C. Smith was picked to finish seventh of 12 teams in the preseason CIAA coaches’ poll. That got the attention of Aycock and his players.
“We felt a little slighted by where the other coaches thought we would finish,” Aycock said. “The guys have been motivated by that, and I knew they would be because we feel we are better.”
One reason for the improvement is the maturity of junior quarterback Keahn Wallace, who has a strong arm and can run if needed. He has helped the Bulls average 38.6 points, second in the CIAA behind Winston-Salem State’s 45.8 average.
Wallace, the league’s top passer, has completed 107 of 167 passes for 1,379 yards and 11 touchdowns, with just two interceptions. Leander Barney leads the running game, ranking second in the CIAA with 95.4 yards a game and 477 total yards.
Rams coach Connell Maynor said during the July media day that Johnson C. Smith’s ranking in the preseason poll wasn’t accurate.
“I thought Johnson C. Smith should have been picked higher, and they are proving that,” Maynor said. “We know they are a very good football team, and offensively they are scoring a lot of points, and defensively they are stopping some people.”
The Golden Bulls’ loss came Sept.28, 19-17 at Virginia State. And Aycock said what happened to his team last season against Winston-Salem State – when the Rams played what might have been their best regular-season game – was an embarrassment.
“It got that way early, and Winston jumped on us pretty good, but our mindset is we don’t look back,” Aycock said.
Instead, the Golden Bulls are focused on Saturday’s start to their Southern Division schedule.
“We are 4-1 heading into this game, and we have some momentum, and from a team standpoint, we are motivated and ready to play,” Aycock said. “We want to win these next four or five games to be in position to win the division.”
The Winston-Salem Journal is a news partner of the Observer.
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