BOWIE, Md. — The crowd for Bowie State University’s home opener was slow to arrive Saturday and barely seated for a game-defining special teams play. But the Bulldogs’ side was packed at the end on a beautiful sunny afternoon, celebrating a 21–7 victory against Shaw University.
“We had a full house and a good spirit and everything,” Bowie State head coach Kyle Jackson said on the field after his team improved to 2–1 overall, 1–0 in the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA). “I wouldn’t expect nothing less from Bulldog Nation. That’s kind of how we do things.”
Jackson helped create Bowie State’s culture as a starting linebacker from 2007–2010 and later a four-year starter at linebacker, and later as an assistant coach under his predecessor, Damon Wilson. The Bulldogs won three consecutive CIAA championships, ending in 2021, after which Wilson departed for Morgan State, and Jackson was named interim coach, inheriting a program that made history 35 years ago
“The history of the program has grown,” Andre Crawley said during halftime as the smell of fried fish wafted from the concession stand. A guard on the 1988 Bowie State team, Crawley and his teammates were being honored for being the first HBCU to reach the NCAA Division II playoffs. “It’s just a matter of these new coaches carrying the torch and keeping the tradition going.”
Saturday marked Jackson’s first home game since Bowie State named him head coach in January. He might’ve been 3–0 if the Bulldogs’ rally wasn’t thwarted by an interception – from Davenport University’s 12-yard line with 15 seconds left – the previous week. There was no need for a comeback against Shaw. The Bulldogs went ahead five minutes into the game and never trailed after Elijah Bailey-Lowden recovered a blocked punt in the end zone.
“Second week in a row we’ve had a blocked punt,” the Shaw Bears’ head coach Adrian Jones said after his team dropped to 0–3. “That’s unheard of.”
Shaw halfback Sidney Gibbs, on the verge of becoming his school’s all-time leading rusher, gained 62 yards on 15 carries. His 20-yard run made the score 14–7 as the fourth quarter got underway, but the Bears gained just 235 yards all day.
“Our defense played well but we haven’t played good on offense all three weeks,” Jones said. “Whether it’s quarterback play, offensive line play or you name it, we just ain’t doing what we’re supposed to do. We can’t keep the defense on the field like that. I thought they played lights out.”
His star halfback expressed similar sentiments. “There’s still a huge sense of belief because our defense is one of the top defenses in the nation,” Gibbs said. “They get stops and keep getting us opportunities, but we’re not capitalizing on those opportunities. They’re not going to give up on me, and I’m not going to give up on them.”
The Bulldogs responded to Gibbs’ touchdown with their best drive of the afternoon – aided by a face mask penalty – marching 79 yards in 10 plays. Quarterback Amir Jenkins hit wideout James McNeill III with an 11-yard pass for the game’s final score. Bowie State gained only 25 yards of total offense before intermission.
“In the second half, we asserted ourselves,” Jenkins said. “We finally showed what we could do. We just got to take that into next week and play like that the whole game.”
Jenkins, who passed for 350 yards against Davenport, managed just 98 yards through the air against Shaw. Fellow quarterback Asa Williams completed 5-of-8 passes for 90 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown to McNeill midway through the third quarter.
“Offense is all about timing,” Jackson said. “When they get to jelling, we’re really the best offense on the field. However, it takes time. Having those guys finally get going was a blessing but there’s still some things we need to tighten up.”
He said his team spent some time with members of the 1988 squad to get a sense of the program’s tradition. Championship banners in the end zone remind players of the team’s recent success, which Jackson is charged with continuing.
“There’s no pressure,” he said. “The expectation is the expectation; the standard is the standard. I’ve been a part of Bulldog Nation since 2007 as a freshman and it’s instilled in me. I know what it takes to get where we belong.”
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