ASU hits road, heads back to N.C.

Want To Listen or Follow Online?

WHO: Albany State (1-1) at Elizabeth City State (N.C.) (0-2)

WHAT: Rams’ second road game of the season.

WHEN: 6 p.m. today.

WHERE: Elizabeth City, N.C.

RADIO: 98.1 FM.

ONLINE: Live updates: twitter.com/AlbHeraldSports.

ALBANY — Justin Blash didn’t hesitate.

Albany State’s senior defensive lineman didn’t blink once.

“This is a must-win for us,” Blash said. “Our backs are against the wall.”

That’s how the Rams (1-1) feel heading into their first meeting with Elizabeth City State (N.C.) in school history today. And it’s a game they need to win to avoid falling below .500 for the first time since starting 0-2 in 2006.

The Rams are coming off a 37-9 loss to Wingate (N.C.) — the team’s worst regular-season loss in five years — and fell from No. 16 to out of the Top 25 in the D-II coaches’ poll. Then it got worse.

They also didn’t receive a single vote from 30 coaches around the country who participate in the weekly poll.

ASU doesn’t just need this win to regain some respect in the Division II ranks, they need it for their own confidence.

“We need this win. It’s as simple as that. We have to have it,” Rams running back Nathan Hoyte said.

Elizabeth City State, which is tucked into the far corner of North Carolina and nearly 700 miles away from ASU, needs it, too.

“They will be on the attack,” ASU coach Mike White said. “They don’t want to lose another game. As a staff we have been talking about that, and we have to be ready.”

Elizabeth City State is 0-2 after a pair of losses to No. 25 Delta State (Miss.) and a talented Newberry (S.C.) team.

The Vikings, who made the playoffs, also started 0-2 last season before rattling off eight wins in a row. They haven’t had a losing season since 2005 and haven’t started 0-3 since 2004.

That wall that the Rams are backed up against — it’s leaning pretty heavily against Elizabeth City State, too.

“If we go 0-3, that will definitely create some concerns,” Vikings coach Waverly Tillar told the Elizabeth City Daily Advance earlier this week.

Even though they were blown out last week, the Rams aren’t changing much heading into today’s game, including their starting lineup.

Hoyte is one of those starters who is out to prove something after the loss to Wingate.

“We just need to make sure we execute better,” Hoyte said. “We can’t make the little mental errors, and that should help us do better this game.

Hoyte, quarterback David Kooi, key wideouts Ronnie Tubbs, Mitchell County native Jessie Atkins and Orion Ponder and a makeshift offensive line that is missing star center Hakeem Lassiter know they need to find the end zone. Through two games, the offense has scored just three touchdowns — two rushing TDs by Hoyte against North Greenville and a passing TD from Kooi to Atkins against Wingate.

“We know that is what we are supposed to do. Our job is to score points. Three or seven points,” Hoyte said. “We were unable to do that last week, and the game was a direct result of that.”

ECSU has had trouble finding the end zone as well and only got on the scoreboard against Delta State when Braxton Daye ran back an interception 93 yards.

But that doesn’t mean the Vikings don’t have offensive weapons.

Blash and his fellow defenders know all about ECSU running back Daronte McNeill.

“He is a good runner,” Blash said. “We are going to challenge him, and he is going to challenge us. We will be able to see where we are with our run defense.”

McNeill has rushed for 212 yards in the first two games of the season and was nearly unstoppable last year, running for 1,647 yards for 22 TDs.

“He is as athletic as they come,” White said about McNeill. “For us to be successful (today) we have to slow him down. We can’t allow big plays, and we can’t allow that running back to get away from us.”

White is looking for Hoyte to get the best of the running back battle and duplicate his performance against North Greenville (194 yards, two TDs).

“I think we are in great shape if we can run the ball,” White said.

Hoyte just wants to back away from that wall.

“We know we are going to get their best shot,” Hoyte said. “They don’t want thier season to be over, and we don’t want our season to be over. We have goals that we had in mind before the season started, and so did they. When your goals are on the line, you are going to put everything you got into the game.”