DURHAM – North Carolina A&T head coach Rod Broadway did not mince words when asked to make his case for an Aggies at-large bid into the NCAA FCS playoffs next week.
“We just made our case,” said Broadway. “We had an opportunity to speak volumes and we just didn’t. We are going to let the committee do their job the best they can as we did the best we can today. We had a chance to get into the playoffs ourselves and we didn’t. We don’t have anyone to fault but ourselves.”
The 24th-ranked Aggies (9-3, 6-2 MEAC) lost 21-14 to their chief nemesis N.C. Central Saturday evening at O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium. The loss put the Aggies’ playoff hopes into serious jeopardy as they will have to share the MEAC championship with four other teams – Morgan State, NCCU, Bethune-Cookman and S.C. State. A win would have given the Aggies the outright title and the MEAC’s automatic qualifier into the playoffs. As it stands now, the Aggies will have to get one of the 13 at-large bids in order to play next week.
By virtue of the five-way tie, Morgan State secured the tiebreaker and will represent the MEAC as its conference champion.
The Aggies lost despite rushing for 307 yards led by sophomore running back Tarik Cohen who had 203 yards and two touchdowns. His day also put him in position to win the MEAC rushing title as he past Morgan State’s Herb Walker, Jr., for the rushing lead on Saturday. But Walker is guaranteed a chance to play one more game.
Cohen’s one hiccup on the day came in the fourth quarter, however. With the Aggies trailing 21-14, Cohen took the handoff from quarterback Kwashaun Quick, darted left and made a dash for the goal line. As Cohen reached the NCCU 3-yard line, he was hit by NCCU defensive lineman Ty Brown. Brown jarred the ball loose and the Eagles recovered at the 1-yard line with 4:31 to play.
“It happens and that is football,” said Broadway about the Cohen play. “Tarik has been great for us all year. He is probably one of the best players in this conference. His contribution to this football team is unbelievable, and I love him for it.”
The Aggies earned two more possessions in the game. There best chance to tie the game in the final four minutes came on a 3rd-and-13 from the NCCU 46. Quick’s pass landed in the arms of sophomore Denzel Keyes but as he went to the ground the ball hit the turf for an incompletion.
“I am proud of our guys,” said Broadway. “To win nine football games at this time, at this university, with the things we had to overcome; I’m proud of them. To be co-champions is not that bad, but it’s not as good as being champion.”
Cohen was spectacular Saturday. On the game’s first play he ran off-tackle 25 yards to the 50. A&T’s opening drive ended with a 35-yard Cohen TD run. The Eagles then scored 21 unanswered points to position themselves for the upset. NCCU’s scoring started with a Malcolm Bell 10-yard touchdown pass to Jazz King that tied the game at 7 in the second quarter. It marked the first time in 9 ½ quarters the Aggies surrendered a point.
There was a bit of controversy toward the end of the half as Zerius Lockhart forced Quentin Atkinson to fumble. The Aggies recovered at their 32 and advanced to the NCCU 43 with six seconds remaining. Quick heaved a Hail Mary toward the end zone that Xavier Griffin appeared to catch, but it was ruled he did not get at least one foot in.
The Eagles took their first lead of the game as they scored on their opening drive of the second. Andre Clark scored on a 3-yard touchdown to give NCCU a 14-7 advantage. The Eagles final touchdown came courtesy of a muffed punt by returner Khris Gardin.
NCCU gained possession at the A&T 37 after the muff. On the next play, Bell kept the ball on a read option and scored from 37 yards out to give the Eagles the two touchdown lead.
Cohen came to the Aggies rescue again as his 67-yard run toward the end of the third quarter set up his 3-yard touchdown run to pull the Aggies to within 7.
“We knew going in we had a lot of work to do, but 9-3 is nothing to be embarrassed about so we are going to keep our heads up and walk out of here with dignity. We are going to continue to grind and build this thing the right way.”
The NCAA FCS playoff selection show is 11 a.m., Sunday on ESPNU. The Aggies hope their one-point loss to top-ranked Coastal Carolina, their national ranking and their nine wins is enough to get them in.