Redskins

Winston-Salem returns to D-II, rolls to title game

Winston-Salem returns to D-II, rolls to title game

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) Winston-Salem State's financial problems are one reason the Rams are playing for the Division II national championship this weekend.

The historically black university was on track to move to Division I when budget woes forced officials to abort the plan to join the Football Championship Subdivision a few years ago.

So, the Rams returned to Division II and made themselves right at home.

In their third season back at this level, they're 14-0 and preparing to face Valdosta State on Saturday in Florence, Ala., with their first national title at stake.

``I don't know if it justifies (the decision), but I know winning solves a lot of problems, and people like winners,'' third-year coach Connell Maynor said. ``If you win, that will make the people that wanted us to stay I-AA kind of forget about that and say, `You know what, this is all right. This is pretty cool.'''

The move back down a rung on the NCAA's ladder sure seems to have agreed with Winston-Salem State.

The alma mater of former NFL players Yancey Thigpen and Oronde Gadsden has twice won the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association - the nation's oldest conference for HBCUs - since rejoining the league in 2010.

That came shortly after school officials decided the transition to Division I - and the expenses that came with it - just wasn't worth it. All those road trips to Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference games in Florida and Virginia began to add up, and so did the increased expenses for scholarships to meet Division I standards.

School officials said that the athletic department ran a deficit of $1.8 million during the fiscal year before the move back to Division II. Chancellor Donald Reaves said at the time projected the deficit would grow to $15 million by this year.

For the fiscal year that ended in June 2012, the Rams had a balanced athletic budget of about $4.4 million - making them one of the bigger spenders in the CIAA.

``The biggest problem with that is money - you've got to fund 15-16 sports ... (and) those sports are traveling to FAMU, Bethune-Cookman, Norfolk State on a Wednesday night to play volleyball, that takes a lot of money,'' Maynor said. ``It takes a lot of funding. We've got some people out there that want to fund the money, I think it wouldn't be a problem to go back to I-AA. But everybody that wants to go back don't have (the) money.''

The Rams might not be playing a Division I schedule anymore, but they certainly have plenty of Division I talent.

``These are not your average CIAA guys, your average D-II guys,'' said running back Bryce Sherman, one of two transfers from South Carolina.

The school's roster includes seven transfers from Bowl Subdivision teams - including one from each of the state's four Atlantic Coast Conference programs. Defensive back Dominique Tate, a Wake Forest transfer, shares a Winston-Salem apartment with current Demon Deacons running back Josh Harris.

Seven more Rams came from FCS schools.

``Did we break a rule? We didn't? Oh, so we're smarter than you,'' Maynor said, directing his comments toward those critical of the high number of transfers.

``You've got to get the game plan and get out there and do the same thing we're doing,'' Maynor said. ``Get your program on the same level we are and quit complaining about the transfers we've got. That's how you win games.''

Nobody can argue with the results.

As a team, the Rams rank in the top 10 in eight major statistical categories. They're fifth in the division with an average of 42.5 points per game; are sixth against the run, allowing an average of 87.7 yards; and are fourth in turnover margin at plus-1.36.

Only three games have been decided by fewer than 10 points - and two of those came in the first two weeks. The third was a 21-17 win over Indiana (Pa.) in the Division II quarterfinals.

Now it's on to the title game and a chance to deliver the school's first championship become the first HBCU to win the Division II crown.

``We're still kind of in shock, but we're ready, though,'' Sherman said. ``We've been thinking about it since the summertime. Coach has been telling us about wanting to win a national championship. We all believe. It's here now. We've got to play hard. We're ready, though.''

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Jay Gruden shown no love in preseason coaches ranking

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USA Today Sports

Jay Gruden shown no love in preseason coaches ranking

Yahoo! Sports ranked all 32 head coaches in the NFL and Washington Redskins fans may not be too happy with where Jay Gruden ended up.

Entering his fifth year as head coach, Gruden was ranked as the No. 27 head coach in the NFL. Here's Yahoo!'s rationale behind his ranking:

"Four years, one playoff berth, one plus-.500 season, one franchise quarterback run out of town."

All that is ... not false, but the whole franchise quarterback being run out of town thing is at least debatable. And even if the ranking is fair, it's still okay to be upset because it's the middle of July, training camp hasn't started yet and the offseason is the perfect time to get irrationally angry about things like these.

Elsewhere in the NFC, Giants head coach Pat Shurmur checks in at No. 23, Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett is No. 17 and the Eagles' Doug Pederson is No. 2.

Unsurprisingly, Bill Belichick was ranked No. 1; he may be the greatest of all time when all is said and done, if not already. The top five rounds out with Pederson at No. 2, New Orleans's Sean Payton at No. 3, Minnesota's Mike Zimmer at No. 4 and Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin at No. 5.

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Stroman pitches 7 sharp innings as Blue Jays beat Orioles 4-1

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USA Today Sports

Stroman pitches 7 sharp innings as Blue Jays beat Orioles 4-1

TORONTO (AP) -- Blue Jays right-hander Marcus Stroman gave up hits to the first three Baltimore batters Saturday.

The Orioles got just two more hits the rest of the afternoon.

Stroman pitched seven sharp innings for his second win in three starts and Toronto beat Baltimore 4-1 for its sixth straight victory over the struggling Orioles.

"He started working both sides of the plate with his sinker and I think that threw them off a little bit, especially late in counts," Blue Jays catcher Luke Maile said. "Overall it was just kind of vintage Stroman."

Baltimore right-hander Alex Cobb picked up his major league-worst 13th loss. The Orioles dropped to 1-8 against Toronto this season.

"I absolutely hate seeing that win-loss in parentheses next to my name," Cobb said. "It's sickening."

Stroman (3-7) allowed one run and five hits. He threw a season-high 107 pitches, the first time this season he has topped 100.

Stroman is 3-2 with a 3.03 ERA in five starts since returning from a shoulder injury that caused him to miss more than a month. He went 0-5 in seven starts before the injury.

"Since he's come back from the DL he's been really good," manager John Gibbons said. "I just think he's pitching like he's always pitched."

Stroman said he's focused on forgetting his early season struggles.

"I know I didn't have the first half I wanted but I've always been someone who prides myself on the second half and finishing strong," Stroman said. "That's something I'll look to continue to do this year."

Friend and teammate Devon Travis likes what he's seen from Stroman since the right-hander returned from injury.

"He's got that fire back," Travis said. "He's really under control. I think he's locking in on every single pitch."

Seunghwan Oh worked the eighth and Ryan Tepera finished for his seventh save in 12 opportunities.

Baltimore scored one run or fewer for the 27th time, the most in the majors.

The first three Orioles batters all singled, although Jonathan Schoop was thrown out trying to stretch his hit into a double. After Adam Jones gave Baltimore a 1-0 lead with an RBI hit to right, Mark Trumbo grounded into an inning-ending double play.

The Blue Jays answered with a three-run fourth against Cobb, taking advantage of a key Orioles error.

Justin Smoak opened the inning with a walk and, following a video review, was ruled safe at second after Cobb's high throw pulled shortstop Tim Beckham off the base on at attempted force play.

"That's not it in a nutshell but I can understand why that's the focus, a play we haven't been making," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said.

Randal Grichuk followed with an RBI double, a second run scored on Diaz's double play grounder, and Maile capped the rally with an RBI single.

Diaz had four hits Friday, including the game-winning single in the 10th. He went 2 for 3 Saturday with a pair of singles.

The Blue Jays made it 4-1 in the fifth when Teoscar Hernandez doubled, advanced on a fly ball and scored on Cobb's balk.

Cobb (2-13) lost his sixth straight decision, allowing four runs, one earned, and four hits in five innings. Showalter said Cobb was removed to avoid worsening a blister on his pitching hand.

"I was only going to have a few more pitches going into the sixth so he felt like the risk-reward was not really worth it," Cobb said.

Grichuk made the defensive play of the game, a running catch on the warning track in left center to retire Trumbo for the first out of the ninth.

GOING DOWN?

Jones and Chris Davis got stuck in an elevator at the team's downtown hotel following Friday night's defeat. Jones documented much of the saga on Instagram. The players and fellow passengers were eventually rescued by Toronto Fire Services staff. The sound system at Rogers Centre played a few bars of Aerosmith's `Love in an Elevator' before Jones batted in the fourth inning Saturday.

NO HOMERS

Toronto won without hitting a home run for just the third time in 26 games this season.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Orioles: Baltimore is expected to demote a reliever when RHP Andrew Cashner (neck) is activated off the 10-day disabled list Sunday.

UP NEXT

Cashner (2-9, 4.56) last pitched July 10, when he allowed five runs and five hits in 6 1-3 innings against the Yankees. Blue Jays LHP J.A. Happ (10-6, 4.29) is 0-3 with a 9.75 ERA in three July starts.