NEW BRITAIN - It was a busy week for the Central Connecticut State football team even before the Blue Devils took the field against Bryant on Saturday.
Off to their best start in a decade, the Blue Devils found themselves ranked in the FCS top 25 for the first time since 2006 on Monday. On Wednesday, Ryan McCarthy was elevated from interim to full-time head coach earlier in the week.
CCSU, however, says it’s not paying attention to the new-found hype. Quarterback Aaron Winchester didn’t mince words when he called the extra attention “rat poison.” But the Blue Devils certainly played like a team worthy of a top-25 ranking in their first home game since Sept. 7 with Winchester leading the way.
CCSU’s quarterback threw for two touchdowns and ran for two more - all in the first half - as the Blue Devils put up 555 yards of total offense in a 52-14 rout of the Bulldogs.
“The word we used this week was dominate,” Winchester said. “We just knew against Bryant if we allowed them to hang around too long, they’d come out and beat us. That was our focus was if we got them down to keep them down for as long as we can.”
It started six plays into CCSU’s first possession of the game when Winchester connected on a 41-yard touchdown pass to freshman receiver Kyren Petteway. The two connected on a 34-yard two a little more than five minutes later to put the Blue Devils up 14-0 and Winchester was just getting warmed up.
The quarterback broke free for a 42-yard touchdown run in the second and then extended CCSU’s lead to 28-7 on a 56-yard run to answer Harrison Easton’s 3-yard score for Bryant (2-6, 2-2).
By halftime, the Blue Devils (6-1, 2-0) had a 28-14 lead and Winchester finished the game with 228 yards passing after completing 13 of his 19 throws and ran for a game-high 161 yards on 10 carries. Petteway led CCSU with two catches for 75 yards.
“I thought we did a really nice job in the play-action game, getting the ball down the field,” McCarthy said. “I think that’s one of the things Aaron has really improved upon is throwing the ball down the field. Our receivers are making plays, but the nice thing is we continue to be balanced offensively. I know we had a big first half in terms of numbers like we were last week, but we were really productive in the second half in terms of moving the ball down the field.”
Led by their running game and defense, the Blue Devils tacked on another 24 points in the second half.
Danley Exilhomme scored on a 2-yard run three minutes into the third quarter and his brother, safety DJ, returned a Matthew Prochas fumble 40 yards for a touchdown less than a minute later.
“The moment I see the ball on the floor, my mind is just like, ‘steam shovel, steam shovel, steam shovel,’” DJ Exilhomme said. “One of our old coaches who was here used to always get on us about looking the ball into our hands before we started running. I knew once I got it I had help behind me and took off.”
CCSU’s defense gave up just 74 of Bryant’s 279 yards in the second half and finished with four sacks, including two by Tre Jones. The unit has also scored 24 of the team’s 241 points this season.
“Our coaches are always hard on us about taking the ball away from the offense,” DJ Exilhomme said. “During practice, we focus on that a lot and if the ball is coming to you, it’s now a 50/50 ball. You gotta be the one to come away with that.”
Joe Zoppi’s 22-yard field goal and Malik Thomas’ 4-yard run in the fourth quarter closed out the Blue Devils’ scoring.
CCSU finished with 312 rushing yards on the day with Danley Exilhomme carrying the ball 14 times for 84 yards, Keonte Lucas 10 times for 40 yards and Thomas getting five touches for 27 yards. Tyshaun James was kept out of the end zone for the first time this season. He finished with two catches for 42 yards.
“We have some really good players and sometimes you get focused on getting the ball to that one player,” Winchester said. “But the one thing with us, we don’t care who makes plays. As long as we score, that’s all that matters… We’re excited to have more people showing out.”
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org