When Mike Lynn became the Bowie State football coach a year ago, he quickly discovered that the Bulldogs were an uneven team. The defense dominated the offense during practices, leaving Lynn to wonder how he was going to bring the offense up to the defense's level.
By taking advantage of the defense's strength, Lynn improved the offense, and as a result, Bowie State became a much more balanced team.
"Our defense has made us a much better offense," Lynn said. "They're the steel that sharpens the offense."
Entering today's Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association championship game against North Carolina Central (9-1, 6-1), the Bulldogs (8-2, 5-2) rank first in total defense and second in total offense in the conference.
"We're getting that right balance," Lynn said.
Defense long has been Bowie State's hallmark. The unit has been particularly stifling this year, holding opponents to a Division II-best 202.1 yards per game. Sterling Green, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound linebacker from Hyattsville, ranks among the top 15 in Division II in tackles for loss (17.5) and leads the CIAA in sacks (8.5). Green and Tyreve Smith, a 6-3, 290-pound lineman, were each selected to the all-CIAA first team defense.
"We want to get after people," Green said. "We want to deliver the first blow."
Lynn was surprised that another member of the defense, strong safety Terrence Stafford, also didn't receive all-conference first-team honors. Stafford, a 6-0, 200-pound strong safety, ranks ninth in Division II in forced fumbles (four) and was fourth in the CIAA in tackles (84).
"I don't see how you can overlook him," Lynn said. "He's all over the field. He's special."
The offense received plenty of recognition, and for good reason. The unit averaged 368.1 yards of total offense, including 235 yards per game on the ground, and 26.2 points per game. Four players were selected to the all-CIAA team: Robert Blocker, a 6-3, 340-pound lineman; Jamal Berry, a 6-3, 290-pound lineman out of Largo; Glen Thomas, a 6-3, 180-pound wide receiver from Suitland; and Isaac Redman, a 6-0, 220-pound running back.
Redman, the only back to rush for 1,000 yards in the conference this season, gained 1,193 yards on 216 carries this season. He surpassed Milton Carr's 1975 school record of 1,073 yards. Redman set several other records as well, including the longest run from scrimmage, a 99-yard gain against Morgan State, and rushed for 10 touchdowns.
Lynn, who was an assistant coach at Suitland when former Maryland standout LaMont Jordan played there, compares Redman favorably to Jordan.
"They have the same great speed," Lynn said.
North Carolina Central and Bowie State have met already this season, with the Eagles winning 38-19 on Sept. 24. In that game, North Carolina Central jumped out to a 17-0 lead in the first quarter.
"We allowed a good team to take advantage of the mistakes we made," Lynn said. "You can't do that against a good team. We're a better football team than we were then."
North Carolina Central, which has won 16 of its last 18 games, also has a potent offense. The Eagles average 32.3 points per game and 349.4 yards of total offense. They lead the series between the schools, 13-4-1, but Bowie State has won three of the last five meetings.
This is Bowie State's third appearance in a championship game. The Bulldogs defeated Winston-Salem State, 28-24, in 1989, but lost to Fayetteville State, 17-14, in 2002. Lynn isn't surprised the team is playing for the championship. It is what was expected all along.
"We talk about championships every day," Lynn said. "This has been one of our goals."