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Winston-Salem faces Valdosta State for D-2 title

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Winston-Salem faces Valdosta State for D-2 title

FLORENCE, Ala. (AP) No. 2 Winston-Salem State has already gone deeper into the playoffs than any other team from the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. Now, the Rams are a win away from making history for black college football, too.

They face two-time national champion Valdosta State Saturday hoping to become the first HBCU team to win Division II's football national title.

``That's a huge deal. For our conference, the HBCUs , to have a chance to play for a national championship and be the first one to win one, is a steppingstone,'' Winston-Salem State coach Connell Maynor said. ``It's a great opportunity for us. We're happy to be here carrying the flag for the CIAA and HBCU. It'd be a great thing if we could pull it off Saturday.''

The only other HBCU team to make the championship game, Central State of Ohio, lost 41-21 to North Dakota State in 1983.

Winston-Salem (14-0) is also trying to become just the fifth team to go 15-0.

Standing in the way is a Valdosta State team seeking its first title since 2007, David Dean's debut season as head coach.

Winston-Salem is in its third season since aborting a Division I move for financial reasons. The program's former status is just one more reason for Valdosta State (11-2), which ended the regular season ranked 17th, to keep the underdog mentality that formed with a rough start.

``The fact that they haven't been Division II for very long and they've got a lot of Division I players, that automatically puts us as the underdog,'' Blazers quarterback Cayden Cochran said. ``That's something we welcomed since we were 2-2 and teams kind of wrote us off and fans of other teams kind of wrote us off.

``It kind of helps us, gives us a little extra push to know that there are people in the stands that don't think we can do it.''

Winston-Salem won its last eight regular season games by at least 19 points and had only one tight playoff game, a 21-17 win over Indiana, Pa., in the quarterfinals. Yet Smith, like his Valdosta State counterpart, feels his team does not get enough respect.

``Even though we've played as good as we have, some people still have doubted us,'' said Smith, who has passed for 3,043 yards with 42 touchdowns against nine interceptions. ``That makes us want to come out and play even harder just to prove people wrong.''

He's got several dangerous targets. Jahuann Butler has 1,167 receiving yards, Jameze Massey 1,156 and Jamal Williams757. All three have caught at least 12 touchdown passes.

Winston-Salem is ninth nationally in total offense and Valdosta State 10th.

Winston-Salem's defense and Valdosta State's offense have easily handled big challenges in the playoffs.

The Blazers racked up 525 yards against West Alabama and Division II's No. 5 defense and gained 498 against Minnesota State-Makato, which had the third-rated defense.

The Rams held West Texas A&M's Harlon Hill Trophy finalist Dustin Vaughan to 169 passing yards in a 41-18 semifinals victory.

Valdosta State's Cochran has passed for 2,506 yards with receivers Gerald Ford (1,018) and Seantavious Jones (916) hovering near 1,000 yards. Both have caught 13 touchdown passes.

Winston-Salem counters with a defense allowing just 89 rushing yards a game and ranking eighth in points allowed (16.1 per game).

``They're probably one of the fastest teams that we have faced all year long,'' Valdosta State's Dean said. ``They're tremendously athletic. Their defensive line has very good pass rushers, which can cause us problems as much as we throw the football.''

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Wilson's return sparks Capitals to a 5-2 win at Minnesota

Wilson's return sparks Capitals to a 5-2 win at Minnesota

Tom Wilson stayed on brand in his return from a long suspension.

The Capitals’ big man scored a goal and took a penalty on the same play in his first game of the season, a 5-2 win against the Minnesota Wild Tuesday night. 

Wilson won’t get the 16 games back he missed for an illegal check to the head of St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist. But he tried to make up for it in his debut. 

Wilson scored Washington’s second goal at 19:32 of the first period when he drove the net hard and deflected a pass from teammate Dmitry Orlov past Minnesota goalie Devan Dubnyk. But this being Wilson, nothing is totally uncontroversial.  

The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder was moving fast. There was no stopping him. Wilson, with some help from Wild defenseman Ryan Suter, collided with Dubnyk. The puck was already in the net, but the referee decided Wilson needed to go think about what he’d done after Dubnyk got clocked in the head. It was a two-minute goalie interference call. 

That’s an odd play rarely called. Either the goal counts or it doesn’t, but maybe because Wilson had already scored before running into Dubnyk both calls could stand. 

“It was a first for me to score and get a penalty on the same play,” Wilson told reporters in St. Paul. “I was just going hard to the net and Snarls [Orlov] put it right on my tape. It was a great pass at full speed. I was trying to do everything I could to get out of the way. I’ll take the goal and the kill went out there and got it done. It was good to see.”

It was far from Wilson’s only contribution in his first game back. He also fought Marcus Foligno at 11:58 of the second period on the faceoff after Minnesota cut a Washington lead to 3-1. He didn’t back down when asked to go by Foligno. 

“He’s a key player for our team, brings so much energy both on the ice and off the ice,” forward Andre Burakovsky said. “Huge lift for the team to get him back earlier. Didn’t expect that and I think he had a really strong game today. Obviously, he got the goal in his first game back and then some dirty works. Obviously, I think he’s a huge guy for us in PK and it showed today.”

Wilson didn’t get the assist on the goal that put the game away. Alex Ovechkin found Orlov for a one-timer on a pass from the left faceoff circle to the right. But it was Wilson driving hard toward the goal that kept a Wild defenseman with him and allowed Orlov the space to finish Ovechkin’s pass. Those little things have been missed in the 16 games Wilson was suspended. He was relentless. 

One big issue for the Capitals: The penalty kill. Wilson has been a big part of that group in recent years and without him – and, to be fair the departed Jay Beagle and the injured Brooks Orpik – Washington entered the game 29thin the NHL in penalty kill percentage (71.7 percent). Wilson wasn’t eased into anything. He played 5:23 on the penalty kill and the Capitals killed five of six Wild power plays. 

[Wilson] does a lot not just on the ice, but in our room. Adds a ton of energy. Well respected player for how he trains,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden. “Going through a tough time and obviously kind of a surprise for us to get him back today. We were hoping to at any point here and we were able to take advantage of a fortunate bounce for our team before even the game started. But I didn’t expect him to have as strong a game as he did." 

"Obviously able to convert on a great play on a line rush, but just the other things he did. Our penalty kill, the opposition scores a goal and, you talk about shifts after goals, not giving the team any more momentum than they’ve already gotten and he gets in a fight there. There’s a lot to like about Tom Wilson and I thought he had a strong game. It was great to have him back.”

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4 reasons the Caps beat the Wild

4 reasons the Caps beat the Wild

Think the Caps missed Tom Wilson? It sure looked like it.

Washington looked like a completely different team with Wilson back in the lineup Tuesday in a dominant 5-2 win over the Minnesota Wild.

Here are four reasons the Caps won:

Tom Wilson

Wilson made his season debut Tuesday after his suspension was reduced by a neutral arbitrator earlier in the day. Wilson’s addition to the lineup had two effects. One, it made the lineup a lot deeper. Without Wilson, Todd Reirden was having trouble putting together the right lineup. Several players cycled on the top line and every line behind the top had to shuffle. Wilson came back onto the top line and immediately the rest of the lineup fell into place.

The top line looked better, the second line looked better and the third line looked better with their regular lineups back intact.

Wilson’s return also brought a lot of energy to the team and that was evident from the very start of the game. The Caps outshot Minnesota 12-6 and took the 2-0 lead in the first period of the game. Compare that to the rather lethargic game we saw on Sunday, clearly, Wilson brought a spark.

Oh, yeah, Wilson has also had a pretty darn good game too. He scored in the first period of the game in a typical Wilson play. He completely blew past Minnesota defenseman Ryan Suter and tipped in a pass from Dmitry Orlov as he crashed the net on goalie Devan Dubnyk.

Somehow Wilson was also given a goalie interference penalty… but the goal still counted? Regardless of what was an obvious reputation penalty, it was a good return for Wilson, who also had a fight with Marcus Foligno and helped set up Orlov’s second goal by crashing again and drawing the defense over to him.

Dmitry Orlov

Orlov broke a 19-game goal drought with a goal just 7:23 into the game.

Lars Eller had the puck and cut to the blue line in the offensive zone turning to the middle. Minnesota got caught puck watching as the defense shifted with Eller, leaving Orlov open on the left. Eller found him and Orlov took advantage of the extra space to score his first goal of the season.

Orlov would add an assist on Wilson’s goal and a second goal in the third period off a beautiful pass from Alex Ovechkin.

The typically reliable defensive pairing of Orlov and Matt Niskanen struggled at the start of the season prompting Todd Reirden to switch up the pairs and place Orlov with John Carlson. Clearly, the move had the desired effect in Tuesday’s game.

The schedule

Tuesday’s game was the Wild’s first at home since Oct. 27. Minnesota was coming off a seven-game road swing and they looked a bit weary at the start of the game. As mentioned above, the Wild were outshot 12-6 in the first period and then 15-8 in the second.

Really, this game was a perfect storm. Not only were the Wild tired from a lengthy road trip, but they also were dealing with a Caps team that was pumped up by the return of Wilson.

Part of what made Sunday’s loss to Arizona so disappointing was the fact that the Coyotes were on the second leg of a back-to-back with their starting goalie on IR. The Caps were not able to take advantage, but they certainly took it to a vulnerable, road-weary team on Tuesday.

The penalty kill

Washington’s porous penalty kill was the reason the Caps lost to the Columbus Blue Jackets Friday and a major reason they fell to Arizona. The PK finally stood tall on Tuesday as the Caps were able to kill off four out of five penalties on the night. The lone power play goal the team gave up came in the third period when the Caps were already up 5-1 and the game was no longer in doubt.

You can add the penalty kill to the long list of things that Wilson instantly improved in his return. Wilson logged 16:47 of total ice time on Tuesday and 5:23 of that came on the penalty kill.

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