WINSTON-SALEM For a while, Johnson C. Smith gave 16th-ranked Winston-Salem State all it could handle.
But the Rams started rolling in the third quarter and by the time they finished had another blowout victory — 44-17 in front of a happy homecoming crowd of just more than 15,000 at Bowman Gray Stadium.
“We started playing Ram football,” said tight end Jerry Chandler, who caught a 25-yard touchdown pass from Rudy Johnson in the decisive third quarter. “We settled down and didn’t panic, and we didn’t make mistakes.”
The Rams trailed 17-14 early in the third quarter before finding their footing.
Coach Connell Maynor gave credit to the scrappy Golden Bulls, who used their fast-paced, no-huddle offense to knock his Rams off balance in the first half.
“You have to take your hats off to them because that’s just their third loss in their last 11 games, and two of those losses were to us,” Maynor said. “Coach (Steve) Aycock is doing a great job, and they played us hard for about two quarters, but we just came out in the second half and executed better, and our defense was there.”
Johnson took matters into his own hands by running 35 yards for a score midway through third quarter. A little later, after the WSSU defense buckled down, Johnson found Chandler for the touchdown pass, leaving the Golden Bulls shell-shocked.
“We just had to settle down and just play Ram football in the second half,” Maynor said of the surge. “Of course, it could have had something to do with homecoming and where their heads were at, but we got it going….”
Johnson C. Smith stood toe-to-toe with the CIAA’s best program in the first half but couldn’t maintain that momentum.
Aycock’s defense was designed to plays for big gains, so the Rams turned to their running game. Maurice Lewis rushed for 113 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries, Johnson ran for 88 yards and two touchdowns, and Patrick Mputu added 85 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries.
“They didn’t want us to beat them deep, so they made us grind it out,” Maynor said. “But like I tell people all the time, I’m going to play to my strengths, and I don’t have to throw for 400 yards to beat you. I’m just going to win the football game.”
Center Bryan Davis helped the Rams rush for a season-high 293 yards.
“That was our goal — to rush for more than 200 yards and we did that,” Davis said. “I think the third quarter is our best quarter, and we seem to score a lot in that quarter in all of our games. So teams start to lose their steam a little … and we seem to pick it up.”
WSSU lost starting offensive lineman Justin Kee to an ankle injury early in the game, but Nate Hartung replaced him.
“Kee is a big part of our offense, and he makes the offense more athletic,” Davis said. “But Nate gives us a little more power on the line, so every time we run the ball, we can be productive.”
The Rams put the finishing touches on the win when Mputu scored from 6 yards, helping push the lead to 35-17 early in the fourth quarter. The Rams added a safety when Lakevious Battle blocked a punt in the end zone and the J.C. Smith punter kicked the ball a second time. Duvontae Covington, the closest Ram to the punter, was credited with the safety.
WSSU’s defense had to contend with strong-armed quarterback Keahn Wallace and chased him more effectively in the second half, finishing with nine sacks.
“We knew he was a good quarterback, but we just had to contain him,” Battle said. “We just had to take away those short passes, and they couldn’t run the ball on us, so by taking away those short passes, we were able to stop them for the most part.”
Wallace had 166 yards passing in the first half but just 26 yards in the second half.
The Winston-Salem Journal is a news partner of the Observer.
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