On a roll: VUU lays it on Livingstone

Fayetteville State road trip up next

Fred Jeter | 9/22/2022, 6 p.m.
Virginia Union University is heading South with a full head of steam and the wind at its back.

Virginia Union University is heading South with a full head of steam and the wind at its back.

Coach Alvin Parker’s Panthers are nationally ranked, boast the nation’s leading rusher and are looking to go 4-0 for the first time since 2007. Life is good on Lombardy Street.

The North Siders improved to 3-0 Sept. 17 with a convincing 42-6 home victory over CIAA rival Livingstone. Delighting a Hovey Stadium/ Lanier Field audience of 2,400, the Panthers dominated in every area.

The not-so-hospitable hosts piled up 396 yards to the Blue Bears’ 197, and had 25 first downs to the visitors’ 14.

Now it’s time to pack the pads for a road trip.

Next up is a 4 p.m. kickoff at CIAA foe Fayetteville State on Sept. 24. The Broncos, the defending Southern Division champs, are 2-1 with wins over UNC-Pembroke and Lincoln, and a loss to Wingate.

According to most recent D2football.com poll, the Panthers are ranked 23 nationally and second among HBCUs, trailing only No. 19 Albany State, Ga.

The brightest star thus far has been sophomore tailback Jada Byers, who pranced for 199 yards against Livingstone, and has 616 yards on the year.

The hard-to-get-a-grip on New Jersey native has averaged 8.4 yards per bursts with six touchdowns. He was named the National Player of the Year after piling up a school record 319 yards in VUU’s upset win at Valdosta State.

The swivel-hipped, 5-foot-7 Byers operates, kind of peek-a-boo style, behind a massive offensive line known as the “Movin’ Van.”

Byers reminds many VUU fans of former running back Andre Braxton, of similar size. Dipping and darting between his linemen, Braxton rolled up VUU records of 1,660 rushing yards and 28 TDs in 2000.

The smallish Braxton, from Caroline County, accumulated a stunning 5,008 yards on the ground and 63 TDs from 1997 to 2000.

While Coach Parker dialed long distance for Byers, defensive standout Shamar Graham could easily stroll to VUU from his old high school.

The 6-foot-2, 210-pound linebacker hails from nearby Thomas Jefferson High. As a senior, Graham led TJ to the State Class 2 semifinals.

Graham had six tackles against Livingstone, and pounced on a blocked punt in the end zone for at TD of his own. On the season the ag- gressive sophomore leads all Panthers with 18 takedowns.

The last time VUU started 4-0 was in 2007 with wins over Central State of Ohio, Lenoir-Rhyne, Livingstone and St. Paul’s. Under Coach Arrington Jones, the Panthers stretched the ’07 streak to six opening wins with decisions over St. Augustine’s and Johnson C. Smith. VUU finished 9-3.

In the best of times, the 1981 Panthers enjoyed a 10-0 regular season before falling to Shippensburg in the first round of the Division II playoffs.

After playing at Fayetteville, VUU returns home for an Oct. 1 game against St. Augustine’s and Oct. 8 homecoming match with Elizabeth City.

On Oct. 15, the Panthers will travel to Bowie State for a contest that could decide the CIAA Northern Division title and perhaps an NCAA playoff berth.

Times are changing. Bowie, the perennial CIAA kingpin, is coming off a 17-14 CIAA loss to Shaw and is an uncharacteristic 1-2 on the season.