The North Carolina A&T secondary did not have its best day. The officials called seven pass interference calls on Aggie defensive backs. Six were accepted. But they kept playing.
Eventually, one play outweighed all the rest. Herbert Booker intercepted University of North Alabama quarterback Rett Files with 1:37 remaining in the game. Ironically, a pass interference call on UNA clinched the Aggies 38-34 win over the Lions Saturday afternoon at Truist Stadium.
The Aggies (3-2, 2-0 Big South) won their third straight. UNA (0-6, 0-2 Big South) remains winless.
“Plays happen in football,” said Booker. “If they’re bad, you keep playing. If they’re good, you keep playing. I had a few bad plays, but you just have to keep playing, and it will turn out good. I kept playing hard, and it turned out good for me in the end.”
Booker entered the game early to replace an injured Amir McNeill. The Aggies have played a lot without the two men – McNeil and DJ Crossen – they thought would be their starting corners going into the season.
UNA kept several drives alive thanks to pass interference calls. But it was a roughing the passer call in the fourth quarter on a 3rd-and-7 from the A&T 13-yard line that gave the Lions 1st-and-goal from the A&T 4. Three plays later, Files threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Nick Haynes to provide the Lions with a 34-31 lead, their first of the game.
But UNA placekicker Grayson Easterling missed the extra point, which proved to be a big miss.
A&T responded to UNA taking the lead as Bhayshul Tuten took a swing pass from Jalen Fowler and raced down the sideline for a 60-yard TD reception. Andrew Brown converted his extra point to give the Aggies a 38-34 lead.
“It was a slip flat, so I caught the ball then turned upfield,” said Tuten. “There was a defender right there trying to pin me to the sideline. I juked back inside, and he missed me. Then I had to make another quick reaction, juke back inside, and that’s what was close to the sideline. I kept my balance in and made the last guy miss. I had a convoy of linemen coming through, so I stayed behind them, and they took me to the end zone.”
The Lions took over with 6:24 remaining in the game and put together an impressive drive that included them converting a 4th-and-1. But on a 2-and-12 from the A&T 36, Files received pressure from up the middle and had to release the ball early. Booker jumped in front of the intended receiver on the underthrown pass to give the Aggies the ball.
“They were in bunch, a motion,” said Booker. “We ran that play all week. I realized the quarterback faked it to the jet man. I knew they were running seam and a will. I just did my responsibility, and he threw it to me.”
The Aggies faced a 3rd-and-10 from their own 15. With the threat of giving the Lions the ball back, Fowler tried to complete a pass to Korey Banks. Evan Jones all but grabbed him and was called for pass interference, sealing the win for A&T.
“We came into the ballgame knowing it was going to be a tough ballgame,” said A&T coach Sam Washington. “I told these guys all week not to look at their record. It does not indicate the caliber of play this team is capable of. I hope that sunk in. I’m sure they believe me now.”
A&T led 24-7 at the half. But back-to-back turnovers on consecutive possessions led to two UNA touchdowns that quickly cut the Aggies lead to 24-21, setting up the late-game theatrics.
Courtesy: North Carolina A&T Athletics