Curtain falls on VUU’s championship season
Fred Jeter | 11/22/2023, 6 p.m.
Much of what had gone so right for Virginia Union University all football season went so wrong in the end.
The Panthers’ outstanding campaign ended with a 38-14 loss at Kutztown, Pa., University in the first round of the Super Region 1, NCAA Division II playoffs.
“Tough loss,” said VUU Coach Alvin Parker. “Hats off to Coach (KU Coach Jim) Clements and his team. They are a well-buttoned up group, and they did a heck of a job.”
VUU fell behind early (down 28-0 in the second quarter), largely due to its inability to stop the home standing Golden Bears on the ground.
The Panthers led all of Division II this season in defense against the run, allowing just 37.3 yards an outing.
Unimpressed, Kutztown rolled up 210, with four TDs, averaging 5.3 yards per pop.
“That’s KU football,” Coach Clements said. “We’re a physical team and we’re going to run the ball.”
Kutztown advances to play at Charleston, W.Va., Saturday in the region semifinals.
Under Coach Parker, VUU finishes 10-2 with a CIAA championship (its first since 2001) and plenty of momentum heading into 2024.
The Panthers are a take-notice 19-4 the past two seasons with back-to-back trips to the NCAAS. Not many Division II schools nationally can match that.
Next year might offer more of the same. All eight of its All-CIAA performers, including headliner Jada Byers, are eligible to return for at least another season.
Byers, providing sunshine on a cloudy day, carried 20 times for 101 yards and a touchdown at KU, but he had just 29 yards on seven runs during the difficult first half.
Despite missing two full games to injury, the junior finishes with 1,186 yards overall with 16 TDs and a 5.8 yard per carry norm.
In three glorious seasons wearing VUU No. 3 jersey, Byers has 4,016 yards and 47 rushing TDs.
Next season Byers will take dead aim on VUU’s career marks of 5,008 yards rushing and 63 running TDs, set by Andre Braxton from 1997 to 2000.
VUU’s other TD came in the second quarter when Ephraim Moore blocked a KU punt and Ken Davis scooped up the loose ball and ran it in for a score from 10 yards out.
Sadly, that was about the only thing VUU’s Burning Sands Football Club had to raise their voices about in their well-attended game viewing at Kickback Jack’s on West Broad.