NEW BRITAIN - Finally, in Week 10, the Central Connecticut State Blue Devils (3-6, 3-2 NEC) are starting to look like themselves.
The Blue Devils rolled over Bryant (5-4, 3-2 NEC) Saturday afternoon, peeling away with a 30-15 win over the Bulldogs for both the Blue Devils' first win at home this season and second straight victory of the season.
The win marks the first time the Blue Devils have won in succeeding weeks all year as the team has labored on defense at times and struggled to gain any consistent progress in moving the ball.
But, Saturday at Arute Field the team looked different, reminiscent of its 2019 self to some.
A pick-6 on Bryant's second play on offense from Ifeanyi Okorji got CCSU on the board first, with the 6-2 280-pound nose tackle running the ball back 30 yards for the score to put life into the building. A missed extra-point try, however, gave Bryant a chance to score on its following drive at 6-0.
Bryant didn't answer on the following drive, instead answering in the second quarter on a 9-yard pitch and catch to take the lead 7-6. CCSU then responded by running off 17 unanswered points across the second and third quarter to shoot ahead 23-7.
Bryant had no answers as its dual-threat freshman quarterback Zevi Eckhaus was pressured all day, limiting his chances to let plays develop and scramble for yardage.
A mixture of getting a game-changing defensive lineman back into the mix and strong coverage from the secondary helped create a lockdown defense for CCSU, limiting the Bulldogs to 220 combined yards and three turnovers.
"We got Kelvin Apari back, who in my opinion is the best defensive lineman in the conference. ... I thought the guys played well in coverage," said CCSU head coach Ryan McCarthy. "We got to the quarterback at times but I think we were sticky in the back half as well. I was impressed. That quarterback is really, really well, and he seemed a little off in the first half. ... I give our defense credit, they scored two touchdowns, and really held it down in the first half for sure."
A game-sealing fumble recovery in the end zone by Tre Jones came late in the fourth quarter as Bryant was looking to embark on a 97-yard scoring drive. The recovery put the exclamation point on a defensive showing that had three sacks, two touchdowns, two fumble recoveries and an interception.
Across all levels McCarthy said the defense excelled, limiting Bryant from any big plays. The longest play of the day for Bryant was one 37-yard reception to Anthony Frederick.
"It might have been the most complete defensive game we've played. Early on in the season I thought we were playing pretty good team defense, we just weren't helping out on the other side of the ball," said McCarthy. "I have to look at the film, but I thought it was pretty complete from the front, to the second level, to the third level. ... There weren't a lot of big plays on (Bryant's) end for sure and I thought our guys did a good job of keeping things ahead of them."
The defense received help on offense from Romelo Williams, who passed for 168 yards and one score. He also led in rushing, running for 65 yards on 13 tries. Nas Smith (45 yards, 12 carries) and Aaron Dawson (37 yards, 10 carries) also led the ground game.
The leading receiver, catching a go-ahead 10-yard touchdown for CCSU, was Tyshaun James with 58 yards.
Now winners of two in a row, the Blue Devils are starting to trend towards the type of team they want to be. But at the same time, the team can't forget where they were just a few weeks ago, in the middle of a five-game losing skid where nothing seemed to be going right for them.
With two more weeks left in the season, CCSU will look to get to 4-6 with a road trip to Duquesne (5-3, 3-2 NEC) this Saturday.
Kick from Pittsburgh will come at noon.