BOILING SPRINGS (September 2, 2017) – Despite the loss of legendary running back Tari Cohen, there was perhaps less heartburn concerning the North Carolina A&T football team’s offense going into the 2017 season than their defense. At least the offense returned an All-MEAC quarterback, a conference rookie of the year wide receiver and a running back who had 11 career touchdowns despite being a backup.
For one Saturday night at least, the Aggies have now elevated a lot of concern about their defense. The 25th-ranked Aggies held Gardner-Webb to 114 yards of total offense while compiling 414 yards of offense themselves to down the Bulldogs 45-3 at Spangler Stadium. Then there was All-American punt returner Khris Garden who had five returns for 150 yards including an 88-yard touchdown return for his fifth career punt return for touchdown.
N.C. A&T’s defense was so outstanding, they did not allow the Bulldogs to cross midfield until there was 12:32 remaining in the game. GWU quarterback Tyrell Maxwell, the Big South’s preseason player of the year and the conference’s 2016 player of the year, threw for 34 yards and an interception on 6-for-15 passing. Maxwell, the Bulldogs leading rusher last season, mustered only 11 yards rushing on Saturday.
“We wanted to attack him. We wanted to go at him and make him make quick decisions,” said N.C. A&T coach Rod Broadway. “We knocked them off the ball in the first half and made some things happen in their backfield. Even on passing plays, I thought our guys did a good job of really getting up field and putting pressure on him.
Once we made him one dimensional it became an easier game. I was afraid of him coming into the game because he can make so many plays.”
N.C. A&T quarterback, redshirt junior Lamar Raynard, was a scary sight for the Bulldogs. He threw for a career-high 321 yards to go along with three touchdown passes. He also ran one in to account for four of the Aggies seven touchdowns. In the process, Raynard completed 19 of 22 passes and posted an impressive 253.93 quarterback efficiency rating.
Raynard’s favorite two targets were 2016 MEAC Rookie of the Year Elijah Bell and Appalachian State graduate transfer Jaquil Capel. Bell caught five passes for 71 yards and two touchdowns. Capel posted five receptions for 91 yards. Redshirt junior running back Marquell Cartwright added 58 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries.
“He started right where he left off (last season),” said Broadway. “We were able to spread the ball around quite a bit. We have so many people capable of becoming big-time playmakers for us. I thought Raynard was sharp tonight in getting the ball out of his hand and getting it to individuals where they can catch it.
He has a lot to work with, so he just has to continue to grow and develop as a player and a leader.”
Raynard completed passes to seven different receivers Saturday night. He completed his first five passes and then completed 13 in a row between the second and third quarters as the Aggies scored on five of their six first-half drives. The biggest pass play of the night came on a 61-yard deep ball from Raynard to redshirt junior Malik Wilson for a 19-0 Aggies lead in the first quarter.
It was the longest completion of Raynard’s career. Gardner-Webb was finally able to stop the Aggies on their ensuing drive to force a punt. But even that went sour when on the first play of GWU’s drive, Maxwell threw a pass that ricocheted off the hands of Aggies cornerback Mac McCain and into the arms of inside linebacker Joshua Patrick for an interception.
Two plays later Raynard connected with Bell on a quick out route. Bell turned up field and ran through three GWU defenders on his way to a 35-yard touchdown. He also scored on the two-point conversion to give N.C. A&T a 27-0 second-quarter lead.
The Aggies then put together a 10-play, 94-yard drive capped off by a Bell 8-yard TD reception to end the half. They then complemented that drive by opening the second half with a 16-play, 75-yard drive that ate up 9:15 off the clock before Jaquil Capel finished it off with a 1-yard touchdown run to give N.C. A&T a 39-0 lead.
Despite the success of the offense, the defense and the punt return team, the Aggies did miss four extra points with two of them being blocked.
“I thought we played good in spurts and bad in spurts. I thought we played an outstanding first half. I was a little disappointed in the second half because I don’t think we followed through with a killer instinct. The most disappointing point is that we missed some extra points. Our protection on extra point has got to get fixed.”
The Aggies will face Division II Mars Hill 6 p.m., Saturday at Aggie Stadium. Tickets are on sale at www.ncataggies.com. Follow Aggies football on Twitter (@ncat_football). Follow Aggie Athletics on Facebook (@ncatathletics), Instagram (@ncatathletics) and Twitter (@ncataggies).