ORLANDO, Fla. – Speed was Alabama A&M’s undoing at Bright House Networks Stadium Sunday afternoon. The Aggies sprinted to touchdown runs of 26, 59 and 80 and had a 95-yard kickoff return by junior Tony McRae, all in the first half, as they cruised to a 47-13 win in the 10th annual MEAC/SWAC Challenge presented by Disney.
Sophomore Tarik Cohen was named the game’s MVP after rushing for 161 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries. Junior quarterback Kwashaun Quick, making his third straight start on opening day, rushed for 94 yards including two touchdowns and threw for 94 yards on 9-for-16 passing.
“We had some guys make some plays,” said A&T head coach Rod Broadway. “Quick opened things up by making some big plays for us and then Tarik made a few more plays. We’ve got some more guys who didn’t make plays for us today, but they are certainly capable. We’ve got a team of guys who can run.”
The Bulldogs (0-1) kept A&T’s speedsters on the sideline early thanks to a 12-play drive that devoured five minutes off the clock. Jaymason Lee’s completed pass Tevin McKenzie advanced the ball to the A&T 3-yard line, but it was short of the first down. The Bulldogs settled for a Ceaser Diaz-Ramon 20-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead.
Diaz-Ramon’s botched onside kick that followed allowed the Aggies to give the ESPN audience watching live a preview of its speed. The Aggies took over at the A&M 37. After an 11-yard run on a reverse by All-American track and field 100 meter sprinter Desmond Lawrence, Quick dashed his way through A&M defenders for a 26-yard touchdown.
The Aggies never trailed again despite A&M’s efforts on its next drive. The Bulldogs again advanced the ball inside the A&T red zone only to settle for another Diaz-Ramon field goal that made it 7-6 with 16 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
Once again A&T’s speed responded. McRae took the Diaz-Ramon’s kickoff, sprinted 20 yards, made a lethal cutback move and left every Bulldog behind for the 95-yard kickoff return and the 14-6 Aggies lead at the end of the first quarter. It was McRae’s second career kickoff return after returning one in last season’s opener at Appalachian State.
“It was important, I thought, to hold them to those two field goals,” said Broadway. “Any time you can hold them to three instead of giving up touchdowns, it changes things. It energizes you a bit.”
A&T directed that energy toward the scoreboard while Quick seemed to drain any energy the Bulldogs had left with a 59-yard touchdown run off of a fake to Cohen that left Bulldog defenders frozen.
“I just trusted my read and did what I was coached to do,” said Quick. “I saw the end crash, and I just pulled the ball out and made a play.”
Cohen said that fake aided in his 80-yard touchdown run that gave the Aggies a commanding 28-6 lead.
“They saw quick running everywhere, so that opened it up for me a bit,” he said. “We’re going to feed off each other because I don’t think defenses are going to be able to stop both of us.”
The Aggies’ 34-point win was their most lopsided win over a SWAC opponent in school history, surpassing the Aggies 28-12 win over Grambling in 1991. Fifth-year linebacker D’Vonte Grant and redshirt junior Denzel Jones led the Aggies defensively with 10 tackles apiece.
It was A&T’s first time playing in the event, which airs live nationally on ESPN.
“I think the coverage is something you can’t buy for our university or our conference,” said Broadway. “It’s great exposure. Our program has come a long way, but we still have a long way to go. We're nowhere close to being the type of program we want to be. So even just being invited to this game is an honor for us after going 27 games without a win and nine, 10 seasons without a winning season. Just to be invited tells us where we're going with our football program.”