The annual spring game for North Carolina A&T felt like a step forward.
The N.C. A&T offseason has been filled with questions about what player is going and who is staying. Who left, and where did they go? Who remains and why? A coaching search also emerged, bringing William & Mary defensive coordinator Vincent Brown to the Aggies.
But with A&T football players occupying the Truist Stadium field with running plays, big hits, and downfield passes, all of the offseason uncertainty was behind them.
The offense, wearing gold uniforms, won the game over the defense dressed in blue, 33-21 on Saturday.
The offense scored four touchdowns and got two field goals, and one missed extra point from Caleb Brickhouse for its tally. The defense recorded four sacks (two points each), one three-and-out (3 points), and five third-down stops (two particulars each) to reach its total.
“I liked the fact that the offense pushed the ball down the field today,” said Brown. “There were some strong runs by the running back position. The defense, at times, did a wonderful job of getting to the quarterbacks. There are a lot of things for us to build on.”
Running back Wesley Graves led the Aggies on the ground with 121 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries. Wide receiver Nick Wilds-Lawing led the receiving corps with five receptions for 61 yards and a touchdown. Defensively, Malich Jacobs led the Aggies with eight tackles, seven unassisted, and he had a pass breakup.
A&T will have an intriguing quarterback battle heading into August camp. Redshirt sophomore Zach Yeager, who started A&T’s 2022 season opener, threw for 41 yards on 5-for-8 passing.
Redshirt freshman Eli Brickhandler, who played in two games during the 2022 season, threw for 58 yards and a touchdown on 4-for-7 passing. Redshirt sophomore Alston Hooker played in four games last season. He tossed the football eight times, completing four passes for 51 yards and a touchdown.
“We had some ups and downs,” said Hooker. “We definitely started off a little rough, but we finished strong. We finished as a team. I like how we played today. There are some things I can do better to improve the offense. In hindsight, I don’t think my performance was too bad, but there is always an opportunity to improve.”
The defense took an early 9-0 lead behind three third-down stops, a three-and-out, and a sack from Henry Daniel. But the offense got on the board when Brickhandler threw a gorgeous pass over Wilds-Lawing’s back shoulder in the end zone for a 17-yard touchdown pass.
‘We will throw the ball around a little more’
A&T’s defense got a sack from Anthony Hairston II and a few more stops to take a 17-7 lead. Gold scored again, however, on a 1-yard TD run from Charlie Dixon. Brickhandler completed an 18-yard pass to Taymon Cooke and a 10-yard pass to Wilds-Lawing on the drive.
Gold took over the game when situational play allowed the offense to get the ball at the defense’s 25-yard line. Brickhouse connected on field goals of 37 and 45 yards to give the offense a 20-19 lead. Graves crossed the goal line from 11 yards out before Hooker connected with Derrick Brinton II for a 25-yard TD pass.
“We throw the ball around a little more,” said Yeager. “I’m glad that we are open to throwing the ball around a little more. We have some new pass concepts. We’re trying to get the ball downfield a little bit.”
A&T will turn its attention primarily toward academics after spring practice. Brown wants his players to have the best grade point average they have had in a long time this semester, emphasizing that if his players don’t do the right things in the classroom, they can’t play or practice.
The 2023 season will open on Aug. 31 when the Aggies travel to Birmingham, Ala., to face the University of Alabama at Birmingham on Thursday, Aug. 31. Who will be the starting quarterback in the game will be a big question until then. But that is not the only position in question.
“We’re going to have open competition for all positions going into training camp,” Brown said. “I would probably say that is going to be the case 10 to 15 days going into the first game before we settle on who will be the starters.”
Courtesy: North Carolina A&T Athletics
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