GREENSBORO – A Richard Mitchell sack as time expired at Aggie Stadium Saturday afternoon helped North Carolina Central clinch a 21-16 win over North Carolina A&T.
Despite the loss to their fiercest rival, there are still a few upsides for the Aggies (9-2, 7-1 MEAC). The Aggies still have a chance to further their season in the inaugural Celebration Bowl to be played in Atlanta between the MEAC and SWAC champions at noon on ABC Dec. 19. Plus, they still walk away with their second consecutive MEAC championship.
The downside of it all is for the second straight year it was their heated rival that prevented the Aggies from claiming the moniker of outright MEAC champion, meaning for the second straight year the Aggies will share the title, this time with Bethune-Cookman (9-2, 7-1 MEAC) and N.C. Central (8-3, 7-1 MEAC).
A three-way tie for the conference title brings the Sagarin rating into the equation as to who will represent the MEAC in Atlanta. A&T has the upper hand in that scenario by virtue of their 137th position in the ranking coming into Saturday’s game. The Wildcats, who defeated their archrival Florida A&M on Saturday, were 175th. Conventional wisdom says a win over the 242nd-rank Florida A&M Rattlers might not do much to help the Wildcats’ cause.
The Eagles do not have a win over a non-conference FCS opponent, which eliminates them from consideration.
“That’s big. That’s why we do this, to have an opportunity to play, and to have an opportunity to go to the bowl game,” said N.C. A&T head coach Rod Broadway when asked about his team’s excellent chance of still playing in the postseason. It was also before he knew the final score of the B-CU/FAMU contest.
“These are not the circumstances we would have chosen but hey, it is what it is,” he continued. “We’re going if (Bethune-Cookman) can hold on to win again. I hate being a sour puss over 9-2 because our guys have done a great job of trying to build this program back from 1-10 and losing 27 in a row.”
But the bittersweet feeling from Broadway is understandable. The build up for a N.C. A&T/NCCU rematch started to gain steam when both teams started putting together lengthy winning streaks. The Eagles came in on a six-game winning streak while the Aggies were winners of eight straight with their only loss coming to No. 12 North Carolina.
For North Carolina A&T they wanted to avenge a loss from last season that kept them out of the NCAA FCS playoffs and prevented them from winning a Black College National Championship and the outright MEAC title. For the Eagles they wanted to prove that last season was no fluke.
Dorrel McClain helped the Eagles cause by rushing for 167 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries, becoming the first back to gain 100 yards against the Aggies this season. McClain’s 16-yard touchdown run to open the fourth quarter gave the Eagles a 21-10 lead. After starting senior quarterback Kwashaun Quick for the first time since Oct. 31 because of injury, the Aggies went with freshman quarterback Kylil Carter in the fourth quarter. The Aggies offense went three-and-out on his first drive, but on his second the Aggies put together an 11-play, 44-yard drive that ended with a 1-yard touchdown pass from Carter to senior tight end Dequan Swann with 7:10 remaining in the game. It was the Aggies first offensive touchdown of the game.
N.C. A&T’s two-point conversion attempt, a pass from Carter to Cohen, failed leaving the Aggies in need of a touchdown to win. The Aggies defense did force the Eagles to punt two more times in the fourth quarter, but a Carter lost fumble on a 4th-and-1 from the Eagles 34-yard line and the Mitchell sack secured the Eagles win.
“Let’s give Central credit, they outfought us today and won a game we thought we had an opportunity to win but just weren’t quite good enough and didn’t get the job done,” said Broadway. “We haven’t been able to generate a whole lot of offense in the last four weeks, so we’ve got to try to figure out a way to get this thing going a little bit better than we’re going right now.”
The Aggies trailed 7-3 at the half and went down 11 after a 67-yard punt return by LaVontis Smith with 6:17 remaining in the third quarter. Fortunately for A&T, senior Tony McRae answered with a 90-yard kickoff return for touchdown on the ensuing kickoff to put the Aggies down four again at 14-10. It was the fourth kickoff return of his career.
“I’m sort of disappointed, but we’re 9-2 and I’ll take that every year. We’ll move on from this,” said Broadway.