VSU and NSU ready to roll at annual Labor Day Classic

Fred Jeter | 8/30/2018, 6 a.m.
On the NCAA football pecking order, Norfolk State University is Division I and Virginia State University is Division II.

On the NCAA football pecking order, Norfolk State University is Division I and Virginia State University is Division II.

But as far as state bragging rights go, VSU is No. 1 and NSU No. 2. At least that’s how it is leading up to the annual Labor Day Classic on Saturday, Sept. 1, at Dick Price Stadium in Norfolk.

Despite a lower NCAA classification, a disadvantage in scholarships and being the visiting team, VSU upset host NSU 14-10 to open the 2017 season.

Coach Latrell Scott’s Spartans will have the revenge motive this year when Coach Reggie Barlow’s Trojans travel to Norfolk for the gridiron matchup.

Plenty of flavors can be added to this pot.

Coach Scott is a former coach at VSU, having coached the Trojans to a 19-3 record in 2013 and 2014 and guiding the Ettrick university to its first NCAA bid.

Life has not been as much fun at NSU, where he is 12-21 in three seasons in the MEAC.

Meanwhile, Coach Barlow has directed VSU to the 19-3 mark the past two seasons after a coaching stint at Alabama State University.

After stunning NSU in the 2017 opener, the Trojans went on to post a 10-1 record last season, earning a CIAA title and receiving an NCAA playoff invitation.

By comparison, NSU was 4-7 overall and 4-4 in MEAC a year ago.

The Spartans rely heavily on their Highland Springs High School connection. NSU standouts include quarterback Juwan Carter, receivers Isaiah Winstead and Marcus Taylor and linebacker Nigel Chavis, all from Highland Springs’ powerhouse program in Eastern Henrico County.

VSU returns ace quarterback Cordelral Cook as one of 16 starters from last year’s lineup. However, the program must replace its all-time rusher, Trenton Cannon, who now plays with the NFL’s New York Jets.

Cannon was the CIAA Offensive Player of the Year in 2017 and a centerpiece of the Trojans’ attack that has 14 wins in its last 15 games over two seasons.

Older fans may refer to VSU vs. NSU as “Big State” vs. “Little State.” This stems from VSU, “Big State,” being founded in 1882 and NSU “Little State,” starting in 1935 as VSU’s Norfolk unit. NSU became an independent university in 1942.

In the series that began in 1963, VSU leads 27-20-1, but NSU had three victories erased because of NCAA violations.

The Spartans defeated the Trojans seven straight times on the field before VSU’s win in last year’s Labor Day Classic. Before that, VSU last defeated NSU in 2005. The two teams did not meet from 2013 to 2016.

The playing field isn’t level in this rivalry.

NSU is allowed 63 football scholarships as a member of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). VSU has 36 football scholarships as a Division II member of the CIAA.

The Saturday night game is a highlight of a weeklong string of activities in and around NSU’s campus. At 6:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 31, there will be a battle of the Spartans’ and Trojans’ marching bands at Joseph G. Echols Hall on the NSU campus.

VSU will play its first four games on the road before entertaining CIAA opponent Shaw University on Saturday, Sept. 29, at Rogers Stadium in Ettrick.

NSU remains at home on Saturday, Sept. 8, to host NCAA powerhouse James Madison University. The Dukes won the FCS football title in 2016 and were runners-up to North Dakota State University last year. JMU also was national champion in 2004.