Wingate knocks out Benedict from NCAA Playoffs, 23-6

COLUMBIA – The historic season for the Benedict College Tigers came to an end on Saturday, as Wingate University used its dominating defense to help take a 23-6 victory on Saturday in the second round of the NCAA Division II playoffs in Charlie W. Johnson Stadium.

“At the end of the day, I’m proud of this football team,” said Benedict head coach Chennis Berry. “We fought, we fought all year. We just fell a little short today. We didn’t get it done. We went against a good football team.”

Seventh-ranked Benedict, the top seed in Super Region 2, ends its season at 11-1, snapping a 13-game winning streak dating back to last season, the longest active streak in the NCAA. Wingate, ranked 22nd, goes to 11-2 and advances to face West Florida, a 38-27 winner over Delta State, for the Super Region 2 championship next week.

The Bulldogs finished with 372 yards of total offense, a season-high for an opponent. Benedict finished with 332 yards of total offense, their fourth-lowest output of the season, while scoring a season-low for points.

“This game came down to missed opportunities,” Berry said. “We had several opportunities, and we didn’t take advantage of those opportunities.”

Tigers gave up two interceptions in the first half – one in the Benedict end zone and the other in the red zone. Benedict later had a punt blocked in the end zone for a Wingate safety. The Tigers attempted to get on the board at the end of the first half, but Reginald Davis Rogers’ 38-yard field goal attempt was blocked, and Wingate led 16-0 at the half.

Benedict had a 56-yard drive in the third quarter that led to a nine-yard touchdown pass from Eric Phoenix to Elijah Watson, but the Tigers missed the extra point.

William Johnson III intercepted a Wingate pass on the next drive, and the Tigers were facing a fourth-and-one on the first play of the fourth quarter. Deondra Duehart was stopped for no gain.

“That’s the call we’ve been running all year. We’ve been 100 percent all year on fourth-and-short,” Berry said. “We put it on the big boys. And again, it comes down to missed opportunities. We’ve got all the momentum going our way, and we fall short. We score there, and we’re in the ballgame.”

Wingate, which came into the game as the nation’s leader in total defense and scoring defense, held the Tigers to just 29 yards rushing on 37 attempts, thanks to seven sacks.

Wingate scored one more touchdown in the fourth quarter on a 21-yard touchdown pass.

The Tigers will return the bulk of their team next year, including SIAC Defensive Player of the Year Loobert Denelus and All-SIAC quarterback Phoenix. Phoenix completed 21-of-35 passes for 303 yards and a touchdown to go along with two interceptions.

“I’m super, super proud of our football team, and super, super proud of their effort the whole entire year. We have nothing to hang our hats on. We have a lot to be proud of. I’m super, super excited about our future we have here at Benedict College.”

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