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Virginia Union University and Fayetteville State prep for CIAA clash
By Steven J. Gaither,
Virginia Union University and Fayetteville State are set to match up in Richmond for a game that could be a CIAA title game preview.
Saturday’s game is set for 6 P.M, will be broadcast nationally on HBCU GO via The Grio at historic Hovey Field. It’s one that many observers have had pinned since the schedule came out as both teams were impressive in 2022, making the NCAA Division II playoffs.
Last season’s game in Fayetteville was a dogfight in which Virginia Union emerged victorious 31-28 on the road, one of the highlights of its 9-2 season in 2022. Fayetteville State would rebound from that loss to win the CIAA title and finish the season 9-3. So it’s no surprise that this is one of the marquee matchups for the 2023 CIAA season.
“It was one of those type of days last year when we went down there,” VUU head coach Dr. Alvin Parker said on his coaches show earlier this week. “It was a lot of stuff they had going on — president’s inauguration, and some other stuff that they had going on on campus, TV game and all that of stuff. So the environment is something that we’ve been there before when we’ve played these guys. But again, they’re a little different of a team we’re a little bit of a different team. It should be the same type of battle just done a different way.”
Indeed, both teams come into the game still looking to round into shape.
Fayetteville State travels up I-95 to face VUU with a 1-2 record that could easily be 0-3 if not for a game-winning 40-yard field goal against perennial CIAA cellar-dweller Lincoln University on Saturday. FSU is scoring just 15.7 points per game and has just five touchdowns in 12 quarters of football, with one of them coming via special teams. Its quarterbacks have passed for just one touchdown.
Virginia Union University enters its home-opener a perfect 3-0, but has looked less-than-dominant against a pair of schools (Shaw and Livingstone College) that are still winless. The common factor in both those games — the availability of Jada Byers. Byers — the leading rusher in all of Division II football last season — suffered an injury in the first half of the Shaw game and never returned. And he didn’t play in Week Three in Salisbury.
“It was a conversation that I was holding on making all last week,” Parker said of holding out his star back last week. “But he kind of knew the way I was feeling because I’ve done it before — moreso with other athletes. So he kind of knew my stance and how I felt about it. We didn’t have the whole ‘Boobie Miles’ scene (from Friday Night Lights). We didn’t have that. But in terms of telling him what the plan was going to be. He does a good job of following whatever we say. It was kinda — it is what it is.”
Parker said Byers is currently day-to-day, and didn’t rule out him playing on Saturday.
“He practiced today. We look forward to him being ready for Saturday, but if he’s not, any of the guys will tell you I put all of their health and safety first,” Parker said. “So it’s going to be a decision made of that.”
Byers’ absence gave Rashard Jackson a chance to shine against Livingstone as he rushed for 185 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries in the win.
“He’s had games where he’s had 10 to 12 carries since he’s been here,” Parker said. “This was a game that, once he got going, he got stronger as the game went on. I kind of equate it to a piece of soap. As long as you keep rubbing it — you gonna get bubbles. It was like that — the more we rubbed it, the more bubbles he gave us.”
The challenge will be on Fayetteville State to contain whatever bar of soap VUU opens up on Saturday night in Richmond.