EAST GREENSBORO (October 13, 2018) – It happened again and this time it counted toward North Carolina A&T’s opportunity to return to Atlanta in December. For the second time this season, the Aggies lost a football game on a last-second field goal at home.
When Morgan State kicked a 36-yarder three weeks ago to beat N.C. A&T it was a non-conference game. When Florida A&M kicked a 26-yarder Saturday with four seconds remaining it not only gave the Rattlers a 22-21 win at BB&T Stadium. It also kept the Rattlers (5-2, 4-0 MEAC) in first place in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. In addition, it put the Aggies (5-2, 2-1 MEAC) in a position where they are going to need help if they plan to return to their third Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl in four years.
What has become so customary in AggieLand over the past eight seasons is the ability to hold halftime leads. N.C. A&T came into the game with a streak of winning 51 straight games when leading at halftime. The last time the Aggies lost a halftime lead was Oct. 29,
“It was the tale of two halves,” said N.C. A&T coach Sam Washington. “In the first half, we played well on both offense and defense. I thought we left at least 14 to 21 points on the field, and I told the guys at halftime you cannot do that against good teams. You have to score on every opportunity that’s presented to you, and we failed to do that in the first half.”
Mixed into the issues of missing out on opportunities for Washington are the penalties the Aggies amassed on Saturday. The Aggies had six in the first half and totaled 13 for 131 yards for the game. Conversely, the Rattlers only had four penalties for 26 yards.
“You cannot have 13 penalties for 131 yards and a win a ballgame of this magnitude against a worthy opponent,” said Washington. “They only had four penalties for 26 yards, so that is a very significant difference. But that didn’t determine our fate. We had opportunities up until the last drive. The game could have been out of reach in the first half.”
N.C. A&T did move the ball down the field in the first half, primarily through the air. Fifth-year quarterback Lamar Raynard, who broke the school record for career touchdown passes on Saturday with a 38-yard TD pass to sophomore Zachary Leslie in the first quarter, was 13-for-19 for 195 yards, two touchdowns
In fact, Raynard’s record-breaking connection to Leslie not only gave Raynard his 60th career touchdown pass to surpass Alan Hooker’s old mark (59), it also gave the Aggies a 14-0 first-quarter lead.
Raynard and Leslie connected again in the first half on a 6-yard TD toss set up by a blocked punt by junior Jalon Bethea to give the Aggies first-and-goal from the Rattlers 6-yard line. N.C. A&T also missed a field goal in the first half and had two turnovers inside FAMU territory. The second turnover cost the Aggies six points as FAMU’s Herman Jackson ripped the ball away from junior running back Marquell Cartwright and returned it 55 yards for a touchdown. It was a big boost for the Rattlers because the takeaway occurred mere minutes after they failed to execute on a fake field goal.
Despite those miscues, N.C. A&T’s offense showed no signs of stalling. But it did in the second half mainly because FAMU was good at playing keep away. FAMU’s first drive of the second half went 14 plays, 82 yards and lasted six minutes, five seconds. It ended when Azende Rey ran in from five yards out to cut the Aggies lead to 21-13.
FAMU’s second drive of the half took five minutes, 11 seconds before Yahia Aly missed a 44-yard field goal. Drive No. 3 was a 13-play, 56-yard drive that devoured 6:13 off the clock before a Ryan Stanley to Chad Hunter touchdown pass cut the Aggies lead to two, 21-19 with 5:09 remaining in the game. The two-point conversion failed to give N.C. A&T an opportunity to tick away some seconds themselves.
But the Aggies had to give the Rattlers the ball back with 2:01 remaining in the game with the Rattlers still possessing two timeouts. FAMU converted three first downs, a fourth down and got a key pass interference call during their march. Those happenings set up Aly’s game-winning 26-yarder.
“The second half was all about possessions,” said Washington. “FAMU kept the ball away from our offense. When we did get the ball, we didn’t have success very much. Now, we just have to go and find out what’s missing and get it corrected.”
Not all hope is gone from the Aggies 2018 season. Wins over nationally-ranked Division I-FCS program Jacksonville State and Division I-FBS East Carolina are still on the Aggies résumé for a bid to the NCAA FCS playoffs. N.C. A&T will need help from others if they wish to return to Atlanta, however.
The Aggies will try to regroup next week and avoid last-second field goals as they travel to Bethune-Cookman to face the Wildcats in Daytona Beach, Fla., 4 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 20.