Once again, North Carolina A&T had its way with its chief rival in football, limiting their offensive options and burying North Carolina Central in an avalanche of big plays.
Coupled with a suffocating defense, the Aggies stomped their way to a 37-14 win Saturday night at Truist Stadium. It was A&T’s fourth straight win over the Eagles as the Aggies (1-2) avoided their first 0-3 start in 11 years.
A&T left the Eagles wondering what it takes to crack the Aggie code. Unlike the previous two meetings between the two largest historically black universities in North Carolina, the Eagles did score. But they couldn’t get the ball in the end zone until the fourth quarter, ending a streak of 12 straight quarters without a touchdown against the Aggies.
NCCU (2-2) also had the good fortune or not, of getting a fully loaded Aggies team. COVID and injuries decimated the Aggies over the first few weeks of the 2021 season. But familiar faces like defensive end Jermaine McDaniel, nose guard Michael Branch and cornerback Amri McNeill returned to the Aggies lineup.
They also got back quarterback Jalen Fowler back after Fowler missed the Duke game two weeks ago with an injury. Also, returning to the Aggies was an effective running game. On Saturday, four different running backs carried the ball for the Aggies, led by senior Kashon Baker, who recorded his first career 100-yard game.
“I mean, it wasn’t even that it’s Central. I feel like I’ve had 100-yards on my mind all week,” said Baker. “It didn’t matter who we were playing. I wanted that 100 today. It was on my mind, so I went out there and got it.”
Even wide receiver Taymon Cooke got into the mix running the football with a 15-yard run.
“Offensively, we were able to run the football. I think we had 250 something yards rushing, and whenever you can run the ball, you can control the game,” said A&T coach Sam Washington.
To be exact, the Aggies had 254 yards rushing, with Baker setting the tone with a 47-yard touchdown run in the first quarter to give the Aggies a 10-0 lead.
“It was designed to hit off tackle to the left,” said Baker about the touchdown run. “I hit off tackle, and then I saw the safety overplaying, and I cut it back. Then I ran to daylight. Catch me if you can.”
NCCU had a tough time catching Baker all night. In addition to his 47-yard run, he also had 24, 11, 15, 16 and 15 yards runs.
“Well, I think it was always a point to give him carries. Honestly,” said Washington. “This just verified why we should have.”
When the Aggies did have to pass the football, Fowler made intelligent decisions. He did not have an interception on Saturday and completed 64 percent of his passes. Perhaps his best throw of the night came at the end of the first half.
With the Aggies trying to score the close-out the half, a holding penalty moved the Aggies back to the NCCU 24-yard line with seven seconds remaining in the first half. Facing a 3rd-and-14, Fowler spotted Elijah Bowick racing toward the corner of the end zone. Fowler turned the ball loose, and Bowick went up in the air to get it.
Bowick came down with the football and somehow toe-tapped two feet down to make the touchdown reception, his first as an Aggie after transferring in from Virginia Tech. The replay officials agreed, and the Aggies went into the half with a 27-3 lead.
I’m very proud of the offense,” Washington said. “I thought Jalen managed the ballgame very well. No turnovers. That is a big part of what we do, protect the football.”
The Aggies did get a 45-yard field goal from Andrew Brown, his second 40-plus yard field goal of the season. But it was A&T’s defense that took the flight out of the Eagles, erasing their running game for the fourth straight time in the series, leaving their offense in a one-dimensional state throughout Saturday’s ball game.
The Eagles did get a 77-yard touchdown reception from Ryan McDaniel to make it a 30-14 ballgame in the fourth quarter. But the Aggies ended any hopes of a miracle comeback as Jacob Roberts recovered the ensuing onside kick.
We’re getting closer to playing the type of defense we’re accustomed to playing,” said Aggies safety Najee Reams.” We made some plays, but we also missed some plays out there. Blue Death is coming for sure. It’s on its way.”
Courtesy: North Carolina A&T Athletics