NEW BRITAIN - The Central Connecticut State football team isnâ€™t big on celebrating a win. This season, itâ€™s always about moving on to the next opponent on the schedule.
But the Blue Devils will certainly enjoy Saturdayâ€™s victory. Even on a cold and windy afternoon, CCSU didnâ€™t want to leave the field. There were too many pictures to take with each other and with their new trophy.
For the second time in three seasons, the Blue Devils won the Northeast Conference championship and for the second time in three seasons, their heading to the FCS playoffs.
â€śIt feels great,â€ť quarterback Aaron Winchester said. â€śItâ€™s a goal we set before the season. We wanted to reach this pinnacle and to be able to do this on our home field means the world.â€ť
The run game and the defense were the stars of the show in this one.
No. 18/19 CCSU rushed for 389 yards and forced four turnovers, including three interceptions, to beat Robert Morris 49-28 in what was a highly-anticipated matchup entering the day.
Both teams were 5-0 in conference play before Saturday with the winner at least securing a share of the NEC title. But the Blue Devils (10-1, 6-0) won the conference championship outright after Duquesne, who CCSU will play in the season finale next week, lost to Bryant.
â€śWeâ€™re feeling great,â€ť said Blue Devils head coach Ryan McCarthy, whose team set a new program record for wins in a season. The previous record was nine victories set in 1973 and 2009. â€śPeople donâ€™t understand how hard it is to win football games at any level. Itâ€™s hard to beat anybody and to win 10 games says a lot about the administration and their commitment to our football program, a lot about our players and a lot about our staff.â€ť
It took a little longer than CCSU would have liked, but the Blue Devils finally took control of the game for good at the beginning of the third quarter when Winchester capped off a 5-play, 36-yard drive with a 2-yard run to give them a 21-14 lead with 12:11 on the clock. CCSU never surrendered the lead from there.
Winchester finished the game with 91 yards and four touchdowns - a 2- and 10-yard run in the second quarter and a 1 yarder in the fourth to go along with the third-quarter score - on the ground to go along with his 111 yards and touchdown through the air. The quarterback was also one of three Blue Devils rushers to finish with at least 90 yards. Danley Exilhomme ran for 185 yards on 26 carries, while Enyce Walker had 90 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown on 10 touches.
â€śWe went back to what our roots were and thatâ€™s not trying to do too much motion and stuff,â€ť said Winchester, who completed 8 of his 14 passes. â€śWe just ran downhill and let our guys be them. Thatâ€™s what coach Mac said after the game was let the playmakers make plays. It helps having [left tackle] Connor [Mignone] back, having [left guard] JJ [Colimon] back and having Cole [Phelps] back at right guard helped a lot. And I thought Danley played outstanding. Thatâ€™s the Danley I see Monday through Friday and he put it together on Saturday.â€ť
Tyshaun James made it 28-14 after catching a 20-yard touchdown from Winchester and cornerback Jahil Brown made it 35-14 after returning an Alijah Jackson fumble 25 yards.
It was the second turnover Brown came up with on the afternoon. The sophomore intercepted Robert Morris quarterback Caleb Lewis at the start of the third that led to Winchesterâ€™s go-ahead touchdown run.
â€śWe were just watching film all week and we knew what the plays were before the plays started,â€ť Brown said. â€śWith the Jack Boys, weâ€™re always active and ready to make plays out there.â€ť
The Jack Boys, the self-proclaimed nickname of the CCSU secondary, came away with all four turnovers. Dexter Lawson, Jr. added two interceptions as well to increase his team lead in picks to six on the season.
Like both of Brownâ€™s forced turnovers, Lawsonâ€™s led to points for the Blue Devils. His first interception, Robert Morrisâ€™ first possession after Brownâ€™s pick, led to Jamesâ€™ score. His second interception led to Winchesterâ€™s fourth-quarter score to make it 42-14. Overall, CCSU scored 28 points from taking the ball away and has 18 interceptions on the season.
â€śWe just played as a unit,â€ť Lawson said of the defensive effort. â€śWe trust our D-line as a secondary and our D-line trusts us in coverage and we just came up with the plays. Our D-line got pressure on their quarterback and they stopped the run game and when the ball is in the air, we know we have to come down with it.â€ť
The Colonials (6-5, 5-1) scored twice in the fourth quarter to make the final score closer than it appeared.
DeLano Madison caught a 44-yard pass from George Martin to cut the Blue Devilsâ€™ lead to 42-21 and Garrett Houser brought in a 35-yard pass to make it 49-28 CCSU after Walkerâ€™s 12-yard touchdown run.
But after that, the Blue Devils ran out the clock and then ran back onto the field to celebrate the championship they coveted since the end of last season.
â€śSometimes everything falls into place and I think itâ€™s one of those years,â€ť McCarthy said. â€śEvery week weâ€™re finding ways to win.â€ť
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org