The Bowie State football team suffered another heartbreaking loss over the weekend. A tipped pass led to an interception return for a touchdown with less than two minutes left, giving Fayetteville State a 13-7 victory over the Bulldogs on Saturday. That's the bad news.
The good news is that even though Bowie State slipped to 5-4 on the season, a win in Saturday's season finale at home against Virginia State will give the Bulldogs the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association East Division title. It also would give Bowie State a berth in the CIAA championship on Nov. 16 against Fayetteville State in Winston-Salem, N.C.
As many as three teams -- Bowie State, Virginia State and Virginia Union -- could finish with 5-2 division records after this weekend's play. However, the Bulldogs would take first place in either a two- or three-way tie because they would get the nod in head-to-head tiebreakers against either school.
"We're like a cat with nine lives," Bowie State Coach Henry Frazier III said. "We haven't been very consistent lately, but all we have to do now is win."
Virginia State comes into the game with a 7-2 overall record and will give the Bulldogs a tough test. But Bowie State is still optimistic, as it has played good football for much of the season.
"We still believe we've got a pretty good shot at beating Virginia State," wide receiver Darnell Jeffries said. "All we have to do is win. That's all we're worrying about."
The defense has carried the team much of this season. The offense often has sputtered or made mistakes at the wrong times. When successful, Bowie State has played a field position game, allowing its defense to make big plays and counting on close to mistake-free performances from its offense.
"We know we have a great defense," said Jeffries, who played at Crossland High and is now second on the team with 18 catches. "We're running the ball more. . . . We'll take our shots. We just don't want to lose it."
This year has turned out to be very different from last season, when a 5-4 record with one game left would have kept the Bulldogs out of the postseason race. Many players felt they were unlucky last year, sitting at home watching the playoffs despite finishing with a surprising 7-3 record.
This year has been a different story.
"We've lost four games, and we can control our own destiny," Jeffries said. "We're just looking at it now like we've got two championship games back-to-back."
An interesting fact for the Bulldogs is that they would wind up playing Fayetteville State if they make the CIAA title game. That's another reason they would love to make the playoffs.
Bowie State often dictated play Saturday, limiting Fayetteville State to 10 first downs and 163 yards of total offense. The Bulldogs had nearly a 16-minute advantage in time of possession, but three turnovers hurt them badly.
The last one was the one that hurt the most. Eric Blackwell picked off Maurice Hill's tipped pass and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown with 1 minute 56 seconds left.
"We thought it slipped away from us at [Fayetteville]," Jeffries said. "We told them we'd see them in two weeks. They know we're going to see them again in two weeks."