By Mark F. Gray
Special to the AFRO
Apparently the football gods have spoken and now the nation knows they play great Division II football at the oldest HBCU in Maryland.
The Bowie State Bulldogs advanced to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division II Football Playoffs for the first time in school history with a 13-10 victory over Newberry College Saturday afternoon at Bulldogs Stadium. Now they face an uphill task of beating No. 5 ranked Valdosta (GA) State in the Super Region 2 championship against one of the blue bloods of this division.
Bowie State, who entered the game ranked No. 10 in the nation, continues to hang their hat on defense. Once again the Bulldogs were stifling against a high octane offense in a pressure game. In a game where yards were hard to come by, they held Newberry to 214 yards of total offense. However, the Bulldogs were by no means a juggernaut with the ball.
With quarterback Ja’Rome Johnson nursing an ankle injury, Newberry paid special attention to the BSU ground attack and put the clamps on it. The Bulldogs were limited to a season-low 20 yards rushing. However, when Johnson needed to make plays in the passing game he did just that. Johnson, a Washington D.C., native completed 15 passes for 244 yards, while the defense was holding Newberry to 84.
Valdosta State is a perennial national championship contender with a tremendous tradition in Division II football. They are a four time national champion who last won the big prize in 2018. The Blazers entered this year’s NCAA Playoffs as co-champions of the the Gulf South Conference title with their 66-35 win over West Georgia, who they lost to 61-42 in the season finale, which saw them share the conference championship. This weekend’s game versus Bowie State will be their tenth appearance in the NCAA Division II quarterfinals and they now have a 18-7 all-time record in the postseason when playing at home in Valdosta. With last weekend’s victory the Blazers improved to 27-13 all-time in the NCAA playoffs.
No matter the outcome, this historic milestone validates BSU’s play among the elite teams in the smaller division of college football. It has raised their national profile, though it remains to be seen what extent that impacts the program. The Bulldogs have been the dominant team in a conference that’s known for basketball, while the roster is composed of kids who are primarily from their community.
While the challenge may be enormous, the opportunity is just as great for a program that is no longer the best kept secret amongst athletic programs in the State. Bowie State has brand value and name recognition locally and as the talent has increased in the region, so has the caliber of the recruiting.
The intangibles will play heavily into whether Bowie State can play into the national semifinal round of this year’s playoffs. Valdosta is by no means Atlanta and there won’t be too many welcoming faces in south Georgia. The campus is just over 100 miles away from Brunswick, where three White men were convicted of murder in the death Ahmad Arbery.
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