NCCU’s Gilbert Is Hero Again

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(Pruitt bursts up the middle).

For North Carolina Central field goal kicker Brandon Gilbert, kicking a last second field goal to win a big game is no big deal to him. After all his 30-yard field goal with three seconds remaining 53 weeks ago against Bowie State in the 2005 CIAA Championship here at O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium gave the Eagles the 26-23 victory.  Against Elizabeth City State the distance was 51 yards.

It was déjà vu all over again.

Gilbert connected from 51 yards with no time on the clock as North Carolina Central defeated Elizabeth City State 17-14 in front of 11,562 at O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium to win its second straight CIAA Championship this past Saturday.  “I felt fine,” said Gilbert.  “I kicked from there in pre-game.  I knew it would have the distance.” 

The Eagles (11-0) got on the board first as Greg Pruitt, Jr. carried off right tackle running down the right sideline for a 54-yard touchdown scamper which gave North Carolina Central a 7-0 lead early in the first quarter.  Both defenses settled down as the rest of the first quarter became a defensive struggle.  Early in the second quarter the Vikings used a balanced attack of running and passing as a 10-play 81-yard drive was capped off by Brandon Fields’ two yard touchdown plunge tying the score at 7-7.

After both teams’ drives stalled on their next possessions, the Eagles started their drive at 9:26 in the second.  Five first downs, three personal fouls and seven minutes and 11 seconds later, the Eagles were forced to punt giving the Vikings the ball back with 2:15 remaining in the half.  On the Vikings third play, Rich was intercepted by Andre George and he returned it eight yards to the ECSU 40 with 1:29 remaining in the half.  Eagle quarterback Stadford Brown went to work finding wide receiver Charles Futrell for 30 yards to the ECSU 2.  Two plays later Jeff Toliver scored from two yards out and NCCU held a 14-7 lead which they took into halftime.

The third quarter was scoreless as both defenses stepped up.  Key for the Vikings in the second half was punter Kevin Dodson, the CIAA Special Teams Player of the Year, who averaged 45 yards in punts in the half, including having a punt down inside of the five.  Also key for the Vikings was the fact that they ran the ball, only passing a total of four times in the second half. 

As Brown threw his second interception of the game late in the third, the Vikings smash mouth football paid off as they put together an eight play 26 yard drive that took four minutes and 56 seconds off the clock as Rich’s quarterback sneak from four yards out tied the score at 14-14 early in the fourth.  On its next possession the Eagles got three first downs and had an opportunity to score but Gilbert’s 37-yard field goal sailed right.  Both teams would punt on their next possessions and the Vikings, who had the momentum in the fourth quarter, started their last drive with 5:08 remaining. 

Field’s rushed for 37 yards on five consecutive carries, his last for six yards giving the Vikings a 1st and 10 from the NCCU 44 inside of two minutes.  ECSU tried a pass play on its next play hoping to catch the Eagles off guard which they did, but Rich over threw wide receiver Chris Carter.  Fields lost a yard on the next play and Rich’s past went incomplete on 3rd and 11.  The Vikings then punted and Dodson’s touchback gave the Eagles the ball with 11 seconds remaining. 

Brown quickly went to work finding Pruitt for eight yards and Wayne Blackwell for 38 yards to the ECSU 34, setting up Gilbert’s game winning field goal.

“I told him when he missed that one to keep his head up because we will need him again,” said Broadway.  “We knew we were going to go back to him in this game and of course we did.” Pruitt carried the ball 13 times for 117 yards and a touchdown as he was named NCCU’s game Most Valuable Player, while Fields carried the ball 29 times for 116 yards and a touchdown as ECSU’s game MVP.

With the win the Eagles, currently the No. 1 seed in the Southeast Region, will have a first round bye in the Division II Playoffs and will host the winner of Delta State/Elizabeth City State.  The Vikings, the No.4 seed, will host a first round playoff game for the first time in the school’s history on November 18.

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