WASHINGTON, D.C. – North Carolina A&T put the ball in the hands of a true freshman Saturday afternoon and then relied on its defense to secure an important 38-22 conference win over Howard at Greene Memorial Stadium.
A few Bison (1-4, 0-2 MEAC) dropped passes – 11 to be exact – helped along the way. The Aggies (4-1, 1-0) will take what they can get after winning without the nation’s sixth-leading rusher in sophomore Tarik Cohen and playing the entire second half without starting quarterback Kwashaun Quick who left due to injury.
Instead the Aggies turned to High Point, N.C., freshman Marquell Cartwright to carry the ball in place of Cohen, while freshman Hasaan Klugh took care of the quarterbacking duties for Quick. Cartwright finished with 135 yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries.
In only two quarters of play, Quick threw for 200 yards, two touchdowns and an interception on 14-for-23 passing. He also caught a 3-yard touchdown pass in the first half.
But it was the Aggies defense that remained steadfast despite watching a 28-7 lead dwindled into a 28-22 lead with three minutes, 25 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
Cartwright gave his defense a boost by bursting through a humungous hole on the left side to score on a 16-yard touchdown with a minute left in the third quarter to put A&T ahead 35-22.
“I’m so proud of our guys because they just keep overcoming a lot,” said A&T head coach Rod Broadway. “Tarik couldn’t play today. Our quarterback only played a half, but guys just keep rising up and playing for us. That’s a good sign to have as a football team.”
MEAC preseason offensive player of the year Greg McGhee tested A&T’s toughness throughout the afternoon.
McGhee closed out the third quarter with a 50 yard run after scrambling around in the pocket to break free.
McGhee complemented the 50-yard run with a 10-yard run to the Aggies 4-yard line to open the fourth quarter.
But a 5-yard false start penalty, a 1-yard run and three straight incompletions, including a drop in the end zone kept the Bison from scoring.
“He’s a heckuva a player. I’m glad he is gone,” said Broadway about the senior signal caller who threw for 237 yards, a touchdown and an interception on 20-for-44 passing.
Howard’s next possession resulted in a three-and-out before junior cornerback Tony McRae would all but seal the game by intercepting a McGhee pass and returning it 23 yards to the Bison 36.
The Aggies came into the game leading the nation in interceptions.
McRae’s pick was the team’s 11th. Nine plays after the turnover, sophomore Cody Jones connected on a 40-yard field goal to put A&T in front by 16.
“I thought we should have had 35 or 42 points in the first half,” said Broadway. “We had few too many mistakes that cost us. But any time you can get up 28-7, it’s big for you. Despite what they did to us on that first drive, our defense ended up playing well.”
The Bison took the game’s opening drive 76 yards on seven plays and closed the drive with an 11-yard touchdown run from McGhee.
The Aggies offense looked unstoppable for the remainder of the first half. Senior Desmond Lawrence turned a short pass into a 49-yard touchdown receptions thanks to his sprinter’s speed as the Aggies tied the game at 7.
A&T used a little trickery as a double reverse turned into a 3-yard touchdown pass from redshirt freshman receiver Caleb Gabriel to Quick on a 4th-and-goal from the 3.
The Aggies scored on three straight possessions to close the first quarter as Cartwright broke through for an 11-yard touchdown run. Junior Darren Bullock closed out A&T’s first-half scoring as Quick found him wide open on a post pattern.
After catching the ball, Bullock made a move toward the middle of the field at the 20 to score on the 46-yard catch and run to put A&T ahead 28-7 before Howard scored nine straight to close out the first half trailing 28-16.
Redshirt sophomore nose guard Marquis Ragland led the Aggies with five tackles (all unassisted), two tackles for loss, a sack and he blocked an extra point. Redshirt junior Denzel Jones added a team-high 10 tackles.
“We’re glad to come up here and get out of here with a win but it was costly,” said Broadway. “We have a number of injuries, so we just have to go back and prepare for South Carolina State the best way we know how.”