GREENVILLE, S.C. – North Carolina A&T did not have its entire starting defensive line. On the third play of the game, the Aggies lost their starting cornerback in DJ Crossen. Throughout the game, they lost even more defensive linemen. A&T even played without top receiver Zach Leslie.
On top of all the absences, the Aggies also had two players ejected for targeting during the game.
Yet, the Aggies almost pulled out a miracle come-from-behind win before falling short to Furman, 29-18, at Paladin Stadium Saturday afternoon.
“There are not many bright sides to a loss, but if there is a bright side, it is that our guys played hard,” said A&T coach Sam Washington. “It was difficult. It was tough. But what I am most proud of is we didn’t quit. We found a way for somebody to get lined up, so we could play.”
The Aggies (0-1) did have their two veteran running backs in the lineup, including All-American Jah-Maine Martin. But the Aggies only totaled 71 yards on the ground. It was also a struggle at times for first-time starter Jalen Fowler in a game that served as a homecoming for the Palmetto State native. Fowler completed only four of his 13 first-half pass attempts for 58 yards.
In the first half, Furman didn’t pull away from the Aggies on the scoreboard, but they certainly looked in control. The Paladins (1-0) put together an 11-play, 79-yard drive in the first quarter that ended with a 17-yard touchdown pass to Devin Wynn from Hamp Sisson to give the Paladins a 7-3 lead.
The drive was highlighted by a targeting call on linebacker Alex Fumbah that led to the Paladins having the ball 1st-and-10 on the Aggies 16-yard line instead of 4th-and-2 on the 31. It also led to Fumbah’s ejection from the game.
They also constructed a 17-play, 67-yard drive that resulted in a Timmy Bleekrode 41-yard field goal in the second quarter as the Paladins went into the locker room at halftime, leading the Aggies 10-3.
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“We were just awful on third downs on both sides of the ball,” said Washington. “We converted just 3 of 13, and they converted 6 of 16 on offense. We must find ways to get off the field.”
Half No. 2 did not look too promising either. It started with a Fowler interception on A&T’s first second-half possession. That led to a 41-yard touchdown pass from Sisson to Joshua Harris. Linebacker Jacob Roberts got called for targeting Sisson on the play leading to his ejection.
Four plays into their next drive; however, A&T did have an answer. Fowler went over the top of the defense to receiver Ron Hunt (6-3, 190, R-SR, Greensboro, N.C.) for a 37-yard completion to the Furman 4. But two plays later, as Fowler rolled to his right and started to sprint toward the end zone, he clashed with Branden Gilby and fumbled the football.
Gilby recovered at the Furman 3 to pause another A&T drive before Sisson found tight end Ryan Miller, on a quick slant for an 83-yard touchdown catch and run to give the Paladins a 23-3 advantage midway through the third.
“We started to trust the passing game,” said Washington. “We tried to run the ball early and set some dominance running the ball. We were not able to do that, so we decided to go over the top a few times and connected.”
Fowler did start to warm up. On the Aggies ensuing drive, he completed all four of his pass attempts, including a 16-yard dart to Hunt, who used his long frame to stretch the ball over the goal line after initially being stopped by a Furman defender at the 2.
After a Paladin field goal, A&T did go over the top again to Hunt for a 74-yard touchdown to cut Furman’s lead to 26-18. The Aggies then forced a Furman turnover on an interception to take possession 1st-and-10 at the Paladin 14.
But a pass interference call on first down stymied the Aggies drive before Andrew Brown (5-10, 165, Lexington, N.C.) missed on a 38-yard field goal with 10:34 to play in the game. A Dominic Roberto fumble two minutes later gave the Aggies 1st-and-10 at the Paladin 39. The Aggies eventually attempted another field goal only to have the snap bobbled and recovered at the Furman 30.
Furman put A&T away from there.
“There were several opportunities for us to put points on the board, and we failed to do so,” said Washington. “We had too many miscues on field goals. I thought the last field goal would have brought the deficit down to five points. If we execute on that field, it changes the complexity of the game. Those things concern me.”
Courtesy: NC A&T Athletics