TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (October 14, 2017) – North Carolina A&T needed the type of win it received on Saturday evening against Florida A&M at Bragg Memorial Stadium. Not only for the fact that the 31-20 win in front a homecoming sellout crowd of25,607 helped the Aggies improve to 7-0 overall and 4-0 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. But also, because the win was not cosmetically pleasing.
The Aggies turned the ball over three times, were out gained 171-65 in total offense in the second half and were penalized eight times. But they won, they are in first place in the MEAC and three of their final four regular-season games are at home in Aggie Stadium as they seek their third MEAC title in four years.
“Every great team I've known has had to win a game like this,” said N.C. A&T coach Rod Broadway. “We didn't play our best, we actually played really bad in spots. But despite not playing well, we can come back next week and get better knowing we got a win.”
When the Aggies were good – specifically the second quarter – they were really good. N.C. A&T compiled 159 yards of offense, held the Rattlers (2-5, 1-3 MEAC) to 29 yards and kept the ball 12 of the 15 minutes allotted in a quarter. The Aggies were also 5-for-5 on third-down conversions in the second quarter. Those factors helped the Aggies turn a 7-7 first-quarter tie into a 28-7 halftime lead.
The Aggies got there by putting together two long second-quarter drives. The game’s momentum shifted toward N.C. A&T when Aggies redshirt junior quarterback Lamar Raynard found senior Khris Gardin for a tough 8-yard catch on 3rd-and-6 from the Aggies 40-yard line. Gardin’s catch was followed by graduate tight end Trey Scott’s 18-yard reception to put the Aggies in FAMU territory at the 48.
A 5-yard run by junior running back Marquell Cartwright, a 15-yard reception on a quick slant by sophomore Elijah Bell moved the Aggies to the FAMU 14. Graduate running back Jamari Smith ended the 8-play, 64-yard drive with a 14-yard TD reception on a screen pass from Raynard. The Aggies next drive included 10 plays, 85 yards and ended with a 14-yard touchdown pass to fifth-year receiver Xavier Griffin. It was Griffin’s third touchdown in as many games. Griffin’s touchdown was set up by a rollout pass to Scott for 31 yards.
Jeremy Taylor’s 32-yard interception return set up the Aggies final touchdown of the half as the Aggies took over 1st-and-10 from the FAMU 15. Five plays later, Bell caught a quick slant from Raynard. Raynard threw for 140 yards in the quarter, his second-best quarter in terms of passing yards on the season after throwing for 145 yards in the first quarter against Charlotte on Sept. 16.
“He is getting better every week,” Broadway said about Raynard. “He is really smart, he gets the ball out of his hands well and he makes plays. For us to be successful he has to continue to grow and get better.”
Raynard and the offense didn’t have the ball much in the second half, specifically in the fourth quarter. The Rattlers had the ball for 9 ½ minutes in the fourth quarter and went 3-for-4 on third down conversions. Plus, FAMU made 13 first downs compared to N.C. A&T’s four in the second half.
“We couldn’t get them stopped, especially on third and long,” said Broadway about the Aggies second-half effort. “We had some real dumb penalties that really hurt. Our penalties helped them stay on the field quite a bit, and we have to tackle better.”
Missed tackles on FAMU’s opening kickoff return of the second half gave the Rattlers the ball at their own 45. Three plays later following a 45-yard run from Devin Bowers, the Rattlers would score on a 1-yard touchdown by Bowers to get within two touchdowns at 28-14. The Aggies turned the ball over on their first possession of the second half as Jules Dornevil intercepted Raynard at the FAMU 21. But Aggies linebacker Kia Richardson returned the favor for N.C. A&T by intercepting FAMU quarterback Ryan Stanley. Richardson’s INT return gave the Aggies the ball at the FAMU 14, setting up a 22-yard field goal from Noel Ruiz for the Aggies final points of the game.
Despite putting together two long drives in the second half, the Rattlers were only able to come away with one more touchdown as the Aggies won their sixth straight over the Rattlers. The Aggies are also 7-0 for the first time in 74 years.
Raynard finished his day 20-for-32 for 215 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. Bell caught six of those passes for 53 yards and a touchdown. Bell is now one touchdown shy of breaking the Aggies single-season touchdown receptions record. Raynard is 152 yards shy of becoming the fifth player in school history to throw for 2,000 yards in a season. Redshirt freshman Najee Reams and fifth-year safety Jeremy Taylor led the Aggies defensively. Reams finished with eight tackles and Taylor had five tackles, an interception and a pass break up.
N.C. A&T will go after 8-0 next week when they welcome the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats to Aggie Stadium for a 1 p.m., Saturday contest. The game will air live on ESPN3 and will be aired on tape delay on ESPNU at 10 p.m.