BALTIMORE (September 23, 2017) – Only a quarter of the season has past and the No. 15/21 North Carolina A&T football team already has the Football Championship Subdivision world wondering if certain things have ever been done before.
N.C. A&T opened their conference season by crushing Morgan State 49-17 at Hughes Stadium. In the process, the Aggies improved to 4-0 in a season for the first time since 1993. Also during the game, redshirt freshman Mac McCain returned two interceptions for touchdowns, one for 100 yards and the other for 78. He had three INTs for the game, and now has five on the season.
Last week in the Aggies upset win over Charlotte, McCain had the game-winning pick-6 in the closing seconds of the ballgame.
It is not certain if anyone in NCAA history has ever returned three interceptions for touchdowns over two games, but only 27 other players in NCAA FCS history has ever returned two INTs for touchdowns in the same game. McCain is only one INT return for touchdown away from tying the single-season NCAA record, which is four shared by three players. McCain came up short for the single-game record for INT return yards. He had 178 and the record stands at 216 by Brown’s Keiron Bigby in 1984.
“I’ve been doing this a long time, and I can’t remember somebody scoring three touchdowns in two games off interceptions,” said N.C. A&T coach Rod Broadway. “But he can run once he gets it. He has done some much to improve on his catching and closing in on the ball, so he deserves this success. He is becoming a big-time playmaker for us.”
The Aggies seem to have an abundance of playmakers, and they were on display Saturday night. Redshirt junior running back Marquell Cartwright finished with a career-high 176 yards rushing on 17 carries, which included a 72-yard touchdown run on the second play of the game. Graduate running back Jamari Smith added 97 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries.
Sophomore wideout Elijah Bell, the nation’s leader in touchdown receptions, added to his collection by scoring twice. He has seven TD receptions on the season, bringing him four touchdowns shy of breaking the school’s single-season TD receptions record with seven regular-season games remaining. Bell added four receptions for 95 yards to his totals.
Redshirt junior quarterback Lamar Raynard had his normal steady day, finishing 15-for-22 for 158 yards and three touchdowns. Raynard has not thrown an interception in his last 141 throws. But it wasn’t Raynard and the Aggies highly-rated passing game that got the Aggies out to a large lead early. It was the running game.
“We thought if we could break their first line of defense, we had some chances to make some plays,” said Broadway. “They put so many guys in the box, we knew once we got past that first wall, we had a chance to break some long ones.”
After Cartwright’s long one to open the game, the Aggies came back on their second drive of the game and went 53 yards in seven plays, using 28 yards rushing to take a 14-0 lead on a 15-yard touchdown catch from Raynard to Bell in which Bell outjumped the smaller defensive back to score.
After one of their drives finally stalled, the Aggies opened the second quarter by returning to their old ways. They put together a 14-play, 88-yard drive that ended with Smith catching a 9-yard touchdown pass from Raynard for a 21-0 Aggies lead. The Aggies then constructed an 81-yard drive that culminated with Raynard connecting with Bell on a 4th-and-9 for a 31-yard touchdown reception.
“I thought once again the guys played really well early. But for some reason when we get way ahead we want to ease up a little bit and start making mistakes that drive me nuts,” said Broadway. “We still have a lot to get corrected, but overall it was a good win for us.”
An element the Aggies were trying to keep intact to also make the college football world wonder if it happened, was keeping Morgan State (0-4, 0-1 MEAC) scoreless. The Bears had been shutout in their previous three games but looked poised to end that drought at the end of the first half on Saturday. MSU drove the ball to the Aggies 5-yard line. But on 2nd-and-goal with nine seconds remaining in the first half, MSU quarterback Elijah Staley was looking to throw the ball to the corner of the end zone Manassah Bailey. McCain recognized it, left the man he was covering, jumped in front of Bailey and returned the INT 100 yards for an obvious school record.
N.C. A&T went into the locker room leading 35-0. MSU did score their first points of the season a minute into the second half as Staley connected with Brian Gentry for an 83-yard touchdown.
Another road test awaits the Aggies next week as they travel to Orangeburg, S.C., to face the South Carolina State Bulldogs 6 p.m., Saturday at Oliver C. Dawson Stadium.