WILBERFORCE — For the first time since 2007, Central State will have a chance to end the season with a .500 record as the Marauders enter Saturday’s game against Concordia (Ala.) College with a 4-5 ledger.
For the 17 senior members of the football team, Saturday is another opportunity to help CSU take strides towards building a contender.
“We want to go out on a high note and give the returning players something to continue to build on for next season,” senior linebacker Gervell Morgan says. “It will mean a lot for us as seniors to win this game and it is gratifying to know that we have helped usher in a new era of Marauder football.”
Winning just two games in 2013, CSU has taken steps towards respectability over the last two seasons under coach Cedric Pearl. The Marauders won three of their final four games of 2014 to finish with a 4-6 overall record. This season, CSU established itself as a formidable team on the road, recording the most road victories (4) since 1995. Despite falling short in both meetings against Tuskegee, the team pushed the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference powerhouse to the brink in 2014 and 2015 before falling short in the final minutes of each contest. With this week’s focus turning to a 1-8 Concordia team, the Marauders are optimistic about their future.
“We were a play or two away from really putting together a special season and contending for the top spot in the SIAC. Despite coming up short in a few games, we have shown that we can compete with anybody,” junior linebacker Deonate Gary explained. “With a win Saturday, we continue to prove that CSU is heading in the right direction. We are trying to give our fans something they can be proud of. I am going to do everything I can to make sure our seniors leave Saturday with a win and we can carry momentum going into 2016.”
CSU certainly has a lot to look forward to on the defensive side of the ball, including the return of Gary, who currently ranks among the top players in the SIAC in tackles, tackles for loss and sacks. The defensive backfield currently leads the SIAC in interceptions with all four starters slated to return for 2016.
“We do have a lot of talent projected to return, but all our focus remains on getting a victory this week,” Pearl says. “There aren’t many guys who end their career with a win and we want our seniors to leave here with a victory.”
For the departing seniors like Morgan and Justin Woods-West, the focus is to put together their best performance possible in the final collegiate game of their career. Woods-West leads the SIAC with 11.5 sacks and hopes to pad his lead against Concordia.
“It is hard to believe this will be my last game at CSU,” Woods-West says. “I have been here all four years and I want to make my teammates, coaches, family and friends proud with a great game. It has been a tremendous year for me and it would be a perfect way to leave the field with a win on Saturday.”
The Hornets of Concordia travel from Selma, Ala. to Wilberforce for the second straight year. Despite the team’s 1-8 mark, Pearl expressed the importance of staying focused throughout this week in preparation for Saturday.
“We can’t afford to take anyone lightly. Coach Stanley Conner does a great job motivating his guys. They didn’t travel all the way up here to get beat and I expect them to play hard for all four quarters.” Pearl says. “We have spent the week preparing for them and every other team this year as if they were the New England Patriots. With senior recognition, it can be a bit of a challenge to control emotions heading into kickoff, but I know our guys will be ready to deliver a great performance.”
Struggling on offense for most of the season, CSU will turn to senior signal caller Julian Walker to help spark the offense. Walker has been one of CSU’s most versatile players this season, starting five games as the slot receiver and playing sparingly at quarterback earlier this season.
“Julian has worked hard and has performed well in a variety of roles throughout his career at CSU,” Pearl said. “We are confident that he will do well in his final game of his career. He is a dynamic player who can make plays with his legs and we think he can give us a much needed energy boost on offense.”
The Marauder defense hopes to close out 2015 with one of the best statistical seasons in recent history. The Marauders have forced a SIAC best 30 turnovers this season and rank No. 1 with 31 total sacks. CSU also possesses the top ranked rushing defense and are giving up the second least yards per game (265.8) in the conference.
“The defense has been spectacular for the majority of the season,” Pearl said. “We have play makers at every position and it has been a privilege to coach this group. They posted two shutouts this season which is something that hasn’t been done at CSU in over 20 years. It is a testament to how hard they all have worked this season. Despite our struggles on offense, the senior leadership has been tremendous and I know our graduating seniors will be successful in their future endeavors.”
CSU will honor its graduating seniors during pregame and halftime of Saturday’s game. The football players will be recognized at midfield approximately 30 minutes prior to the 1 pm kickoff. Members of the Central State auxiliary corps and band will be honored during a ceremony at halftime.
Fans can listen to the game on Gem City Sport Network (http://www.gemcitysports.com/radio-1/) and watch the action of the new Marauder Sports Streaming Channel (http://www.maraudersports.com/watch/?Live=3).