Winston-Salem faces Valdosta State for D-2 title

No. 2 Winston-Salem State has already gone deeper into the

playoffs than any other team from the Central Intercollegiate

Athletic Conference. Now, the Rams are a win away from making

history for black college football, too.

They face two-time national champion Valdosta State Saturday

hoping to become the first HBCU team to win Division II’s football

national title.

”That’s a huge deal. For our conference, the HBCUs , to have a

chance to play for a national championship and be the first one to

win one, is a steppingstone,” Winston-Salem State coach Connell

Maynor said. ”It’s a great opportunity for us. We’re happy to be

here carrying the flag for the CIAA and HBCU. It’d be a great thing

if we could pull it off Saturday.”

The only other HBCU team to make the championship game, Central

State of Ohio, lost 41-21 to North Dakota State in 1983.

Winston-Salem (14-0) is also trying to become just the fifth

team to go 15-0.

Standing in the way is a Valdosta State team seeking its first

title since 2007, David Dean’s debut season as head coach.

Winston-Salem is in its third season since aborting a Division I

move for financial reasons. The program’s former status is just one

more reason for Valdosta State (11-2), which ended the regular

season ranked 17th, to keep the underdog mentality that formed with

a rough start.

”The fact that they haven’t been Division II for very long and

they’ve got a lot of Division I players, that automatically puts us

as the underdog,” Blazers quarterback Cayden Cochran said.

”That’s something we welcomed since we were 2-2 and teams kind of

wrote us off and fans of other teams kind of wrote us off.

”It kind of helps us, gives us a little extra push to know that

there are people in the stands that don’t think we can do it.”

Winston-Salem won its last eight regular season games by at

least 19 points and had only one tight playoff game, a 21-17 win

over Indiana, Pa., in the quarterfinals. Yet Smith, like his

Valdosta State counterpart, feels his team does not get enough


”Even though we’ve played as good as we have, some people still

have doubted us,” said Smith, who has passed for 3,043 yards with

42 touchdowns against nine interceptions. ”That makes us want to

come out and play even harder just to prove people wrong.”

He’s got several dangerous targets. Jahuann Butler has 1,167

receiving yards, Jameze Massey 1,156 and Jamal Williams757. All

three have caught at least 12 touchdown passes.

Winston-Salem is ninth nationally in total offense and Valdosta

State 10th.

Winston-Salem’s defense and Valdosta State’s offense have easily

handled big challenges in the playoffs.

The Blazers racked up 525 yards against West Alabama and

Division II’s No. 5 defense and gained 498 against Minnesota

State-Makato, which had the third-rated defense.

The Rams held West Texas A&M’s Harlon Hill Trophy finalist

Dustin Vaughan to 169 passing yards in a 41-18 semifinals


Valdosta State’s Cochran has passed for 2,506 yards with

receivers Gerald Ford (1,018) and Seantavious Jones (916) hovering

near 1,000 yards. Both have caught 13 touchdown passes.

Winston-Salem counters with a defense allowing just 89 rushing

yards a game and ranking eighth in points allowed (16.1 per


”They’re probably one of the fastest teams that we have faced

all year long,” Valdosta State’s Dean said. ”They’re tremendously

athletic. Their defensive line has very good pass rushers, which

can cause us problems as much as we throw the football.”