GREENSBORO – Here they are again. Thanks to a 27-6 win over Delaware State Saturday afternoon at Aggie Stadium, No. 14 North Carolina A&T (9-1, 7-0 MEAC) clinched at least a share of the MEAC football title a week before the regular-season finale. It marks the Aggies first back-to-back MEAC title since the 1991 and ‘92 seasons.
But also like last season, the team standing in the way of the Aggies and the outright MEAC title is arch-rival N.C. Central. The Eagles (7-3, 6-1 MEAC) head into Aggie Stadium next week looking for a portion of what the Aggies already have, a piece of the MEAC championship. That’s what the Eagles did to the Aggies last season when they won 21-14 in Durham. As a result, all of N.C. A&T’s marketing pieces read #unfinishedbusiness. The Aggies hope to remove the “un” next week even though head coach Rod Broadway is not ready to have that conversation yet.
“Right now Central is the furthest thing from our mind,” said Broadway. “We have to focus on us and making us better fundamentally and execution wise.”
N.C. A&T clinched the conference title despite turning the ball over three times and fumbling on three occasions. Six minutes into the fourth quarter the Aggies found themselves ahead by only seven points, 13-6, over winless Delaware State (0-10, 0-7 MEAC) after Brycen Alleyne scored from four yards out for the Hornets. Delaware State kicker Jeremiah McGeough squibbed the ensuing kickoff in order to keep the ball away from some of the Aggies dangerous returners.
Unfortunately for him, one of those dangerous returners was playing up. Senior Tony McRae took the bouncing ball at the 25-yard line, ran through a huge opening in the wall of blockers and returned the kick 75 yards for his third career kickoff return for touchdown. The Hornets didn’t let the return deterred them as they advanced to the Aggies 30 on the next drive before Freshman quarterback Kobe Lain was stopped short two yards by Zerius Lockhart on a 4th-and-4 run.
The Aggies took over at their 28. They got a 28-yard run from junior Tarik Cohen and runs of 12 and 17 from freshman quarterback Kylil Carter during a 9-play, 72-yard drive. The nearly five-minute drive ended with a Carter 1-yard touchdown run to give the Aggies a three-touchdown lead with 1:34 remaining in the game.
We need to go back and take a closer look at this thing,” said Broadway. “We are in good shape. Here’s the thing, and I don’t mean anything negative toward (Delaware State) because I think they did a good job and were prepared. But it’s hard to get a team ready to play a 0-9 football team. It’s hard mentally. But that is on me. I didn’t have the team fully prepared as they should have been. But I’m not going to apologize for winning. We won the ball game.”
Cohen led the Aggies by finishing with 132 yards on 17 carries as he became the Aggies all-time leading rusher. He surpassed Mike Mayhew on a 28-yard run in the first quarter. Freshman quarterback Kylil Carter accounted for three Aggie touchdowns. As a runner he finished with 84 yards and a TD on 21 carries.
N.C. A&T’s defense came through again. The Hornets were held to 14 rushing and 174 yards of total offense. Saturday marked the sixth straight game an Aggies opponent has been held under 100 yards rushing. N.C. A&T, who came into the game ranked third in total defense nationally, also forced three turnovers including interceptions in the red zone by Zerius Lockhart and McRae.
“We communicated well today,” said McRae. “That was a big issue for games in the past. But (North Carolina Central) is better than Delaware State, so we have to communicate and do better.”
A win over the Eagles earns the Aggies a berth to the inaugural Celebration Bowl, which pits the MEAC champion against the champion from the SWAC at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on Dec. 19. Bethune-Cookman also has a chance to claim a portion of the conference title. Not only are the Aggies back-to-back champions, but they have back-to-back 9-win seasons for the first time since putting together three straight 9-win seasons from 1990-92.