DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The North Carolina A&T defense has done more than its fair share to help the Aggies secure back-to-back MEAC football titles.
In a game that featured very few defensive stops, however, it was offense that powered the 15th-ranked Aggies to a 52-35 win over Bethune-Cookman Saturday afternoon at Municipal Stadium. It was N.C. A&T’s first win in Daytona Beach in 13 years, ending a four-game losing streak to the Wildcats in Florida.
The Aggies (5-1, 3-0 MEAC), led by Tarik Cohen’s 220-yard, 3-touchdown performance, posted a season-high 561 yards of offense. His latest outing made him the first player in school history to rush for 200-plus yards in three straight contests. It was his seventh career 200-yard game, and he scored three touchdowns in a game for the seventh time. He is now 79 yards shy of 5,000 career rushing yards.
But it wasn’t all Cohen. Sophomore quarterback Lamar Raynard threw for a career-high 277 yards, three touchdowns and an interception on 20-for-31 passing, which included a career-long 55-yard touchdown pass to junior Khris Gardin.
“We’ve got a lot of weapons we can use a lot of times that will make things a lot easier for Tarik,” said N.C. A&T head coach Rod Broadway. “We’ve got a good tight end (Leroy Hill), a couple of receivers with great hands and guys with some speed out there. We spread the ball around today like I’ve been wanting to do for a long time.”
Eight different Aggie receivers caught passes on Saturday, but the Aggies were not alone in excelling at the passing game. N.C. A&T’s pass defense had a tough afternoon. The Aggies held Bethune-Cookman (0-5, 0-3 MEAC) to eight yards rushing, but the Wildcats had 403 yards passing led by quarterback Larry Brihm, Jr., who had 376 yards, four touchdowns and one interception on 23-for-42 passing.
The Wildcats had two 100-yard receivers as Jawill Davis caught nine passes for 143 yards and Frank Brown had five receptions for 117 yards and three touchdowns. After surrendering 358 and 388 yards passing to Tulsa and Hampton this season, Broadway said pass defense is now a concern.
“I’m glad we only gave up eight, nine yards rushing, but we have to be better coverage wise,” said Broadway. “We’re giving up too many easy ones. Four hundred yards passing is too many, and it’s everybody. It starts with upfront with the pass rush, it goes to the linebackers and then it goes into the secondary. We’ve got to do a much better job of playing the pass because it’s becoming too easy for teams to pass against us.”
It was a 67-yard TD pass from Brihm to Brown that gave the Wildcats their first fourth-quarter lead of the season at 28-24 lead with 14:50 remaining in the game. It was also the Wildcats’ first lead of the game.
An excessive celebration penalty after the score helped the Aggies obtain good field position at their own 47-yard line. A 21-yard run by Cohen and a 21-yard completion from Raynard to freshman Elijah Bell set up an 11-yard TD run by Cohen to help the Aggies recapture the lead. The Wildcats quickly answered with a 5-play, 59-yard yard drive that took only 91 seconds to take a 35-31 lead with 12:04 to play.
Instead of turning to Cohen for a big play, the Aggies responded with an excellent 37-yard toss from Raynard to Bell to give the Aggies a 38-35 lead. The Aggies never trailed again as on the first play of B-CU’s next possession, redshirt junior Jeremy Taylor intercepted a Brihm pass and returned it 24 yards for a touchdown with 8:53 to play. After B-CU’s next drive stalled, Cohen lined up as the Aggies punt returner and wowed everyone again with a 67-yard return for touchdown that was called back on a holding penalty. Cohen did eventually score his third touchdown on an 8-yard run. Cohen also had a first-half TD run of 87 yards. He has five runs over 50 yards this season.
“That punt return was something to see. It’s a darn shame that one was called back,” said Broadway. “There are not enough positive things you can say about him. He’s a warrior, and when comes time to play, he plays. I’m just glad he’s on our team.”
N.C. A&T heads to Washington, D.C., next week to face the Howard Bison (1-6, 1-3 MEAC) 2 p.m., Saturday at Greene Stadium.
Courtesy: NCA&T Athletics