GREENSBORO, N.C. – It was not within the realm of possibility for North Carolina A&T football coach Sam Washington to remove the smile from his face when the subject of fifth-year running back Marquell Cartwright came up after the Aggies 37-20 Greatest Homecoming On Earth win over Norfolk State at BB&T Stadium Saturday afternoon.
Washington served as the Aggie’s defensive coordinator for seven seasons before becoming N.C. A&T’s head coach in 2018. Therefore, Washington and Cartwright have been together for five of those years, and there have been some great times and some pretty rough times over those years.
Saturday was one of those good times. As Cartwright was finishing up his postgame comments to the media about the possibility of the Aggies playing in some type of postseason, Washington walked toward Cartwright who was in the front of the room and said with excitement: “Didn’t I tell you it was going to happen? Didn’t I tell, you?”
It was like a wise father rejoicing after seeing his son come through some stormy weather.
“He’s something special,” Washington said earlier in the press conference. “I’m just happy to be a part of his life, and I love to watch him play. I’m thankful, pleased, proud and all of the above for him. It’s going to be a sad day when he leaves us.”
Washington hopes to have Cartwright and the 20 other seniors who were honored before the game Saturday on Senior Day for at least three games. Cartwright and his teammates played like they want to be around a little longer. The main piece of evidence to show the Aggies (7-2, 4-1MEAC) commitment to keeping their season going beyond 11 games was shown through the running game. N.C. A&T rushed for 310 yards.
It marked the second time this season the Aggies have gone over 300 yards rushing, and it marks the fourth straight season where the Aggies have had at least two 300-yard rushing games in a season. Cartwright led the way with a career-high 183 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries. Cartwright and teammate Jah-Maine Martin made history on Saturday. Martin rushed for 130 yards and a touchdown on ten carries. They became the first Aggie duo in 27 years to each rush for 100 yards in the same game. N.C. A&T Sports Hall of Famers Barry Turner and James White accomplished the feat on October 12, 1991, against Florida A&M.
“I was very pleased and pleasantly surprised that we rushed for over 300 yards,” said Washington. “That was a bright spot in the ballgame.”
Another senior, Malik Wilson also displayed evidence that he wants to keep playing. Wilson also made history on Saturday when he returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown to give the Aggies a boost after the Spartans marched down the field on a 16-play, eight-minute, 25-second, 58-yard drive that ended in a 25-yard field goal from Josh Nardone to cut the Aggies lead to 21-20 with 2:21 remaining in the third quarter.
It was Wilson’s third kickoff return for a touchdown, tying Justin Ferrell’s school record set in 2010. “Whenever you get a play like that, I call it, ‘Big Mo,’” Washington said. “The energy and everything sway your way. It just turns everything in another direction.”
All of the evidence in the world would not have helped the Aggies if they did not receive some help from the nation’s capital. Not in the form of federal assistance, but in the form of a Howard University win over Florida A&M in Washington, D.C., Saturday.
FAMU’s loss puts the Aggies a half game behind the Rattlers in the MEAC standings, and it puts the Aggies firmly in the mix for their third Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl bid in four years. There is still a lot of football to play, and the Aggies still need more help after sustaining a head-to-head loss to the Rattlers at home on Oct. 13. But a return trip to Atlanta is still very much a possibility.
“I feel like if we play like we’re supposed to play, worry about what we have left on our schedule and finish the season strong, then everything will fall into place,” said Cartwright. “A lot of things can happen, so we just want to do our part and make sure we don’t miss a beat.”
The Aggies have to go to Savannah State on Nov. 10 and to N.C. Central on Nov. 17. FAMU has one conference game remaining, a Nov. 17 game against Bethune-Cookman at a neutral site.
For their part, after the Aggies received their momentum-changing return from Wilson to take a 27-20 lead going into the fourth quarter, the Aggies defense stiffened. They held the Spartans (3-5, 1-4 MEAC) to a three-and-out before offensively burning clock. Their ensuing 14-play, 52-yard drive gobbled nearly seven minutes off the clock and resulted in sophomore Noel Ruiz booting a 42-yard field goal to put the Aggies up by 10.
NSU threw picks on back-to-back possessions as seniors Timadre Abram, and Julius Reynolds got to celebrate their respective Senior Days with picks. Reynolds’ pick led to an 8-yard Cartwright TD run that put the Spartans away with 3:18 remaining in the game. The Aggies held the Spartans to three second-half points after leading 21-17 at the half.
“Our Senior Day actually started last night,” said Washington. “We allowed them to get up and share their journey and experience here at A&T. It got very emotional. I think it carried over into today. There were kids on the field in the fourth quarter actually crying. But they have a lot to be proud of.”
It is a group that is now 38-7. It also a group that went 12-0 in 2017 to become the first Division I-historically black college or university to finish a season with no losses and no ties. They also won two MEAC championships over four years and two HBCU national titles in the same span.
Can’t you just hear Washington saying to each senior: “Didn’t I tell you it was going to happen?” Didn’t I tell you!?”
Courtesy: NCA&T Athletics