GREENSBORO – Having enough humility is not something the North Carolina A&T football team has to worry about heading into its conference matchup with S.C. State on Oct. 5 in Atlanta.
They will have plenty of it. The Aggies are off to their first 3-0 start in 12 years after defeating Howard 27-19 Thursday night in front of 16,011 fans at Aggie Stadium and in front of a national-television audience watching on ESPNU. After looking like a dominant 3-0 team in a first half where they took a 27-7 lead, the Aggies showed there is still room for improvement, even for undefeated teams.
The Bison scored the final 12 points of the game, the Aggies turned the ball over twice and had a punt blocked and for the first time in eight games, a team was able to rush for more than 100 yards on the Aggies defense.
“Tonight was an eye-opener for all of us,” said A&T head coach Rod Broadway. “We can’t turn the ball over like we did. “Our kicking game went south on us tonight. We’ve been pretty good kicking game wise, but we had a punt blocked. We dropped a punt (on a return). We shanked a punt. We just weren’t very sharp tonight.”
A&T held a 27-10 lead at halftime lead, but the second half opened with A&T freshman Dominic Frescura’s punt being blocked. The Bison took over at the A&T 22-yard line and three plays later quarterback Greg McGhee connected with Stewart Hartman for a 17-yard touchdown. John Fleck missed the extra point, which left the Aggies with a 27-16 lead.
The Aggies had to rely on their defense to keep the Bison from rallying. A&T ran just 24 plays for 75 yards in the second half. But Howard compiled just 18 yards over its next five possessions and turned the ball over once during that span. In the fourth quarter, the Bison was able to put together a 13-play, 45-yard drive that included an 18-yard run by Anthony Philyaw. Fleck closed out the drive with a 40-yard field goal to put the Bison down by one score, 27-19, with 8:08 to play.
Howard had two more chances to cut into the Aggies lead, but D’Vonte Grant blocked a 32-yard field goal attempt by Fleck with 4:03 to play. Howard’s final drive ended in four plays, giving the Aggies their first conference win of the season and their seventh straight win overall, dating back to last season.
“We’ll take it,” said Broadway. “We’re 3-0. When is the last time we’ve been 3-0 around here? Twelve years? So yeah, we’ll take it. It was a tough win. I knew coming in Howard was a good football team. We’re very fortunate to get a win. But we’re going to have to play better than we played tonight if we expect to beat a team, South Carolina State, who I think has been one of the premiere teams in our league over the last 10 years.”
In the first half, A&T did all the things a 3-0 team does to become 3-0. Freshman Michael Weaver blocked a Howard punt two minutes into the game to set up a 4-yard touchdown pass from Lewis Kindle to Devin Moore. Howard tied the game at 7 as a Kindle fumble led to a 6-play, 44-yard drive that ended with a 24-yard McGhee touchdown pass to David Wilson.
The Aggies scored the next 20 points by taking advantage of Howard miscues. After the Howard score, Fleck’s kickoff went out of bounds, giving the Aggies a short field they took advantage of as Kindle scored on an 8-yard touchdown run. A D’Vonte Graham interception led to a 1-yard Dominique Drake touchdown and a McGhee fumble followed by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty gave the Aggies the ball at the Howard 38. Junior wide receiver Desmond Lawrence took advantage by scoring on a 38-yard touchdown run to give the Aggies their 27-7 lead.
“I thought we had a pretty good rhythm going in the first half offensively,” said Broadway. “But our defense had to play 94 snaps tonight. That’s too many. We have to possess the ball a little bit more offensively and try to give our defense a break. We can’t continue to let those guys play almost 100 plays.”
Howard became the first team since Howard on Oct. 13, 2012, to rush for more than 100 yards on the Aggies defense. But A&T was still able to get the program’s first-ever win on ESPNU. The Aggies were 0-6 on the network coming into Thursday’s game. The Aggies still hasn’t surrendered a rushing touchdown in 30 straight quarters.
Grant led the Aggies defensively with 12 tackles and three tackles for loss. Senior safety Travis Crosby added 10 tackles. Lawrence led the Aggies on the offensive end with 48 yards receiving and 44 yards rushing. The Aggies and the Bulldogs renew their rivalry at the Georgia Dome on Oct. 5 with a scheduled 3:30 p.m., kickoff.
“We’re definitely going to remain humble this week,” said Lawrence. “The game tonight was a little close. We had some scary moments, so we know we got some work to do. We just have to keep improving.”