GREENSBORO - Junior wide receiver Larry Raper made three bold promises. On Friday, he promised his mother he would score three touchdowns.
Friday night, he promised senior teammate Wallace Miles he would do all he could to help the senior football class win their final homecoming. On the sideline Saturday, he promised teammate Mike Mayhew he would match him touchdown for touchdown.
After Saturday's game, he should be nicknamed "the promise keeper." Raper caught three touchdown passes, had 109 yards receiving and five receptions to lead N.C. A&T to a 42-24 win over Delaware State at Aggie Stadium.
"I told him, 'brother, trust me, we're going to get this win for y'all because I know how big this is,'" said Raper about the promise he made to Miles.
It was the Aggies first homecoming win in eight years. Mike Mayhew chipped in with 128 yards rushing and three touchdowns as the Aggies improved to 4-2 overall and 3-0 in the conference. They remain a half game behind Norfolk State for the conference lead.
"I wanted to perform well because this was the first time my mom got a chance to come watch me play in college," said Raper. "I felt like I needed to tell her something."
Raper's first touchdown catch was set up by a D'Vonte Grant interception. Grant caught Nick Elko's pass at the DSU 42-yard line after the ball slipped through the hands of Ryan Langdon. Grant returned the pick 28 yards to the 14. Three plays later, the Aggies offensive line picked up the Delaware State blitz and Aggies quarterback Lewis Kindle roped a pass to Raper for a 14-0 Aggies lead.
Another DSU miscue allowed the Aggies to take a three touchdown lead in the first quarter. Travis Tarpley muffed a Skyler Thomas punt, giving the Aggies the ball at the Hornets 19. Mayhew scored for 19 yards out to give the Aggies a bigger cushion.
Before the Hornets were able to add a field goal before the half, the Aggies scored again as Mayhew ended a 12-play, 84-yard drive with an 11-yard touchdown.
"We focus a lot on protecting the ball," said Kindle, who finished 173 yards and three touchdowns on 13-for-20 passing. "The more we keep the ball, the more our defense is off the field. That's big. We have a lot of guys on defense who play a lot of snaps. The longer we can stay on the field, the better it is for the team. We put a lot of emphasis on managing the clock and managing the game."
Things got interesting in the third quarter, however. Elko led two touchdown drives, including a 42-yard touchdown pass to Tarpley, to cut the lead to 28-17. But Raper would help fulfill all three promises in a span of eight minutes.
Raper took advantage of a blown coverage to score on a 27-yard touchdown pass. On the Aggies next drive, he made a difficult catch in the back on the end zone as he outworked Tavis Tabb for the football on a 9-yard score.
"Larry is coming along," said N.C. A&T head coach Rod Broadway. "I'm glad to see Larry rise up and play the way he's playing. He's played two excellent games back-to-back."
Elko threw for 319 yards on 50 pass attempts for the Hornets. But the Aggies dominated the line of scrimmage, collecting 247 rushing yards on 46 carries. The Aggies head to Washington, D.C., next week to face Howard for its homecoming. Game time is 1 p.m.
"I'm happy for our guys," said Broadway. "They should enjoy homecoming. And then I'm happy for our fans. They deserve to have a winning football program, so today was big. But tomorrow we have to move past this and focus on Howard."