GREENSBORO - During halftime of North Carolina A&T's football game against Florida A&M, A&T's 1992 MEAC Championship football team was honored. The nickname for A&T's stingy defense back then was "Blue Death Defense."
Nickname suggestions are now being accepted for the 2012 A&T defense. The Aggies have a chance to produce its first winning season in nine years. Why? Defense!
The FAMU offense was virtually ineffective in what was a decisive 16-3 Aggies victory at Aggie Stadium Saturday afternoon. It was the Aggies (5-4, 3-3 MEAC) first win over the Rattlers since 2003. A&T, who came into the game with the No. 1 defense in the MEAC and the second-ranked defense in the nation, made FAMU (3-6, 3-3 MEAC) the fourth team this season that has been unable to score an offensive touchdown against its tenacious defense.
In a game that featured no offensive touchdowns, a dominant defensive performance was needed.
"It's not about what we say to each other that gets us going, it's about what we stand for as a defense," said A&T linebacker D'Vonte Grant. "We're all about playing with passion and heart. For the most part, we want our brothers to know we have their back. If we maintain and play with passion and heart, we'll get the results we want."
And who wouldn't want the type of results the A&T defense is getting? The unit has now gone 10 straight quarters without giving up an offensive touchdown. The last offensive touchdown the Aggies surrendered came with 10:16 remaining in the second quarter of their loss to Delaware State on Oct. 20. A&T has only given up 525 yards of offense since that score.
"There have been a few plays we haven't made defensively," said A&T head coach Rod Broadway. "But overall, we've played well enough (defensively) to be a really good football team."
Aside from their lack of size amongst the front seven, the Aggies' defensive prowess should not be a shock. They opened the 2012 season with nine starters back from a 2011 team that ranked eighth nationally in defense. Throw in cornerback D'Vonte Graham, who sat out the 2011 season a year after he led the MEAC in interceptions, and the Aggies had all the right pieces in place.
On Saturday, middle linebacker Tony Clodfelter had eight tackles and linebacker Makari Pugh and defensive end Tony Mashburn had seven tackles apiece. As efficient as its defense has been all season, the Aggies offense has regressed over the past few weeks. Freshman quarterback Kwashaun Quick got the start on Saturday after redshirt junior Lewis Kindle threw three first-half interceptions last week against Norfolk State.
Despite Quick's ability to make plays as a runner, the Aggies still mustered just 202 yards of offense. The Aggies did take advantage of some early FAMU miscues. A blocked punt led to a 27-yard Zach Cimaglia field goal and a turnover on downs led to a 30-yard Cimaglia field goal that gave the Aggies a 6-0 lead.
"We have a lot of issues we're trying to fix offensively," Broadway said. "We'll come in tomorrow and grind a little more so we can get a little better offensively."
The Aggies defense did show some deficiencies. In the second quarter, the Rattlers mounted an 18-play, 81-yard drive that took more than nine minutes off the clock. But in the end, all it yielded the Rattlers was a 19-yard Chase Varnadore field goal.
"In those situations, you want to stay positive and stay together," Mashburn said. "We have a bend but don't break defense."
Cimaglia connected on his third field goal with 10:38 remaining in the game, but the Aggies didn't enter the end zone until Grant returned a Tyler Bass interception 35 yards for touchdown 18 seconds later. It was Grant's second INT return for a touchdown this season.
"I'm proud of our defensive coaching staff for having our defense ready to play," Broadway said. "I'm proud of our players for playing the way they did, and I'm proud of the football team for winning the game."
The Aggies can guarantee themselves a winning season with a win over S.C. State next Saturday when they face the Bulldogs at 1:30 p.m., at Aggie Stadium. It will not be easy. The Aggies last win over S.C. State wasn't quite as far back as the Blue Death Defense days, but close enough. Their last win over the Bulldogs was a 66-14 triumph on Nov. 18, 2000. It's a losing streak that spans 12 years, 11 games and six A&T head coaches.