VUU’s 26-21 loss to Chowan may derail NCAA playoff hopes

Fred Jeter | 11/3/2022, 6 p.m.
Few saw this coming. Virginia Union’s joyride of a football season has struck an unexpected speed bump. Now the Panthers …
VUU’s Armonii Burden (5) runs a fumble recovery for a 65-yard touchdown. Photo by James Haskins

Few saw this coming.

Virginia Union’s joyride of a football season has struck an unexpected speed bump. Now the Panthers must make sure it’s not a dead end.

With a CIAA Northern Division title on the line, VUU was a 26-21 loser to Chowan before 5,715 shocked and disappointed fans Oct. 29 at Hovey Stadium/Lanier Field.

VUU had defeated the Hawks four straight seasons and seven of the past eight and was a clear favorite against the non-HBCU visitors from North Carolina.

The worm has turned. Now, Chowan will face Southern kingpin Fayetteville State in the CIAA Championship Game Nov. 12 in Salem.

The event has been in Salem since 2016 and VUU has never qualified, although it has been a close second several times.

Coach Alvin Parker’s Northsiders were ranked 10th in the AFCA Division II poll prior to the setback, and were leading the nation in scoring offense.

What now? The Panthers are 8-1 and facing danger in the form of its menacing next-door-neighbor Virginia State.

The Panthers will travel to Ettrick to play the surging Tro- jans Saturday at noon at Rogers Stadium. Under first-year Coach Henry Frazier, VSU is 6-3 (reversing last year’s 3-6) and feeling frisky. Added incentive: Saturday is Senior Day.

A second loss could possibly derail the Panthers’ NCAA playoff hopes. The 28-team field consists of seven teams each from four Regions.

The CIAA is in Super Region 2, along with schools in the SIAC, Gulf South and South Atlantic Conferences.

VUU went to the playoffs five times under Coach Willard Bailey, three times under Joe Taylor and, most recently, in 2015 under Mark James.

The loss to Chowan wasn’t without a historic touch. Jada Byers piled up 109 rushing yards, bringing his bulging sea- son bag to 1,669. That enables the sophomore to pass Andre Braxton as the all-time Panther single-season rusher. Braxton gained 1,660 yards in 2000.

Still, an offense averaging nearly 50 points settled for 21, with a third of that coming on a long TD fumble return by defensive end Armonii Burden.

Quarterback Jahkari Grant was under pressure throughout. The senior passed for 177 yards, but was picked off three times (one returned for a TD) and sacked on seven occasions.

VUU must forget about Chowan and concentrate on an invigorated VSU squad. The Trojans tuned up for the finale with a 42-21 rout of Lincoln in Pennsylvania.

In each of VSU’s last two victories, it has prevailed with a dominant ground game, led by “Flash ‘n’ Dash” ball carriers Darius Hagans and Upton Bailey.

Bailey raced for 183 yards and three touchdowns on 13 carries against Lincoln, while Hagans added 153 on 27 tries.

The previous week vs. Elizabeth City, Bailey had 115 yards overland with Hagans adding 111.

VSU would love winning to send its seniors out with a seventh-victory bang and snatch current bragging rights in a rivalry dating to 1900.

VUU, meanwhile, is aiming for a ninth victory and the real possibility of more to come when the NCAA tourney opens Nov. 19.