North Carolina A&T had the better of it against North Carolina Central during the team’s heated rivalry in the MEAC.
On Saturday, the Aggies are looking to carry that dominance over the Eagles as a member of the Big South.
North Carolina A&T (0-2) has won three of the last four meetings, something that is not lost on North Carolina Central head coach Trei Oliver heading into the 91st all-time meeting.
“I haven’t gave that any thought to this not being in the conference anymore. It’s just the next game,” Oliver said Monday during the MEAC coaches media availability. “We’re focused on North Carolina A&T. We’ve got to pull this one out for the alumni, students and the Eagle fans.”
Also read: HBCU football preview: Is North Carolina Central a true contender for a MEAC title in 2021?
North Carolina Central (2-1) — picked to finish third in the conference behind South Carolina State and Norfolk State in preseason polling — should draw confidence from wins over Winston-Salem State and 2019 SWAC champion Alcorn State this season.
“They say it’s hard to get your team up two weeks in a row for a big game. Being that we didn’t really play as well as I would like last week, hopefully, it shouldn’t be a problem for us getting up for those Aggies,” Oliver said. “But the guys know what this rivalry’s about, this matchup is.”
On the other side, the Aggies — one week removed from a bye following rare back-to-back losses to Furman and Duke — just want to get in the win column, rivalry aside.
The Aggies will try to jumpstart star running back Jah-Maine Martin going. Through the first two games, the senior has been held to a total of 57 yards on 2.1 yards per attempt, all career lows.
“What we have to do is come out and execute,” said head coach Sam Washington. “It’s about execution, you know, doing the little things well and if we just focus on doing those things, I think we’ll be fine.”
Washington also said it helps that Saturday’s game will be the home opener at Aggie Stadium, a place North Carolina A&T hasn’t lost since 2018.
“Oh, man. You talk about needing a home game,” he said. “I think we’re in, really, desperate need of being surrounded by our family members and our friends and our fans and to play on our grass and to play against an opponent like Central, I think it’s ideal.”
North Carolina Central, on the other hand, doesn’t need much motivation for this one. They know what’s at stake.
“You have an in-state rivalry. The teams are 45 minutes apart. It’s a lot of history between the two programs,” said Oliver. “It’s going back from way back. It’s been some chippy ballgames and a lot of trash talk. I’d like to say it’s a love-hate relationship, but it might be a hate-hate relationship.”