November 23rd, 2022 5:00pm
For the first time in school history, the #11 Benedict Tigers (11-0, 8-0) will participate in the Division II football playoffs. The Tigers enhanced this history by, not only hosting a playoff game, but earning the number one seed in Super Region 2. The Tigers will take on the Wingate Bulldogs (10-2, 7-2 SAC) from the South Atlantic Conference. Wingate tied with Newberry (9-2, 7-2) at the top of the Piedmont Division of the South Atlantic Conference but lost the tiebreaker to represent the division in the SAC Conference Championship Game. In the opening round of the playoffs, the Bulldogs won in dominating fashion over CIAA opponent, #14 Virginia Union (9-2, 7-1 CIAA), 32-7. Despite Jada Byers, the nation’s leading rusher, gaining 119 yards on the ground, the Bulldog defense held the Panthers to a season low 95 yards rushing on the ground. Wingate used two pick-sixes to open a 20-0 halftime lead. With the losses by Fayetteville State (9-3, 8-1 CIAA) and Virginia Union in the opening round of the playoffs, Benedict is the lone HBCU remaining in the tournament.
Benedict is one of only four undefeated teams remaining in the playoffs (Angelo State, 11-0; Grand Valley, 11-0; Pittsburg State, 12-0). No one, on either roster, was probably born the last time these two teams met on the gridiron in 1998. Benedict owns a 2-1 series lead in the matchups, with both wins coming in Columbia. The Tigers won in 1998, 34-33, and in 1996, 40-17. The Bulldogs won at home in 1995, 28-20. Wingate is making their fourth playoff appearance in the past five seasons. Their other playoff appearance was in 2010. Wingate secured first round victories in 2010 and 2018. In 2010, Wingate defeated SIAC opponent Morehouse, before losing to SIAC opponent, Albany State. The last time Wingate has faced an SIAC opponent was Albany State in 2012 and 2011. Benedict has not played against an SAC opponent since 2017 (Limestone).
These two teams are anchored by their defenses this season. Benedict’s defense ranks in the top five nationally in key categories: first in passing yards allowed (126.3), second in fourth down conversions allowed (.136), fourth in third down conversions allowed (.248), and fifth in both yards allowed per game (236.9) and points allowed per game (12.0). Other defensive categories the Tigers rank top ten in the nation are: sixth in defensive touchdowns scored (4) and first downs allowed (138), eighth in fumbles recovered (13), and tenth in tackles for loss (8.4). BC sits twelfth is sacks per game at 3.36 and thirteenth in scoring offense at 37.2 points per game. On special teams, Benedict is tenth in blocked punts with three. The Tiger offense has scored 35 or more points in seven of eleven games and the defense has given up 14 or fewer points in seven of eleven games, including two shutouts.
Wingate’s defense ranks in the top five nationally in many categories also: first in yards allowed per game (215.2), third down conversions allowed (.218), red zone defense (.556), tackles for loss per game (10.5), and points allowed (10.58), as well as second in teams sacks (4.33). The Bulldogs sit sixth in defensive touchdowns scored (4), rushing yards allowed (69.1), defensive passing efficiency (94.5), and first downs allowed (138), seventh in passing yards allowed (146.1), and ninth in passes intercepted (16). On special teams, WU is fifth in net punting yards (40.69). Wingate’s defense has allowed 14 or fewer points in eight of twelve games, including one shutout, but their offense has only scored 35 or more points one time.
In the thirteen team SIAC, Benedict had ten all-conference players, including four of those players on the first team. First team defensive lineman Loobert Denelus was named the SIAC Defensive Player of the Year. He had 49 tackles, 20 tackles for loss and 13 sacks. Denelus tied for second in the NCAA with four fumble recoveries. Benedict possessed three of the five first-team offensive linemen with Maurice Campbell, Tyler Pritchett, and Henry Mitchell, III. The second team features QB Eric Phoenix, RB Noah Zaire Scotland, DL Jayden Broughton, DB Olajuwone Smith, P Jared Eubanks, and KR Kendall Norman. Phoenix passed for 1752 yards with 14 touchdowns and rushed for an additional 219 yards with four touchdowns. Scotland rushed for 572 yards with eight touchdowns and caught 13 passes for 129 yards with one touchdown. Broughton registered seven tackles for loss, six sacks, and an interception on the season. Smith recorded 38 tackles and two interceptions. Eubanks averaged 38.8 yards per punt, had 16 punts downed inside the 20-yard line, and five punts of 50 yards or longer. Norman averaged 20.29 yards per kickoff return. As a punt returner, Norman averaged 14.22 yards per return and had two returns for a touchdown.
In the twelve team SAC, Wingate won eleven league awards. Evan Surgeon was voted the conference’s top offensive lineman. DJ Horne was the Piedmont Division Defensive Player of the Year and Jordan Thomas was the division’s Defensive Freshman of the Year. Ethen Evans was the first team All-SAC kicker and punter. DE Marquise Fleming, DT Tre Morrison, and LB Jaquan Edwards also earned first team honors. RB Alexander Wilson, OL Hunter Jolly, DT Sirod Cook, LB Davon Gilmore, and DB Dequan Mosley earned second team honors.
Chennis Berry is in his third season as the head football coach at Benedict. After not competing in 2020 due to the pandemic, Berry took a team that finished 1-9 in 2019 to a 5-5 record in 2021. Prior to coming to Benedict, Berry spent seven seasons as the assistant head coach and offensive coordinator at Southern. Berry was named the SIAC Coach of the Year for the 2022 season.
Joe Reich is in his 22nd season at Wingate and is the all-time winningest head coach at the school with a 149-88 record during his tenure. Reich is only the fourth coach in the program’s history and has spent more seasons (22 seasons) on the Bulldogs sidelines than the other three coaches combined (15 seasons). This season is Reich’s second 10-win season (2022, 2019) and he has not had a losing season since 2013 (5-6). Reich is the brother of Frank Reich, former NFL quarterback and former Indianapolis Colts Head Coach.
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About A.D. Drew
In addition to covering the SIAC for d2football.com, Drew is a member of the Black College Sports Network, co-host of the BCSN SportsWrap podcast with Bryan Fulford, a producer and frequent guest co-host of Dr. Cavil's Inside the HBCU Sports Lab with Michael Washington and Charles Bishop, and a producer of Thee Pregame Show with Bishop and Neely. Drew is also an executive board member of the HBCU-Pro Sports Media Association and the Black College World Series.