GREENSBORO (Sept. 29, 2016) – There was a play in North Carolina A&T’s 31-9 MEAC football win over Hampton Thursday night at Aggie Stadium that explained Aggies senior running back Tarik Cohen’s rise to collegiate stardom while at the same time it was the catalyst that helped the Aggies pull away.
In front of a national television audience watching live on ESPNU, Tarik went for 256 yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries. In the process, he added his name to two more N.C. A&T records. He broke Stoney Polite’s career rushing touchdown record of 41 and now stands alone with 44 rushing TDs. His third touchdown of the night went for 94 yards, breaking James White’s nearly 25-year record (89 yards) for longest run from scrimmage.
Cohen recorded his fifth 200-yard game and his sixth three-touchdown game. In fact, Cohen rushed for 204 yards and three touchdowns in the second half.
His second-half dominance started on the Aggies first drive of the second half with the Aggies leading 10-3. The Aggies (3-1, 1-0 MEAC) obtained possession thanks to a Jeremy Taylor interception that gave the Aggies the ball at their own 2-yard line. On 3rd-and-3 from the N.C. A&T 9, Tarik took the handoff, appeared to be headed for a loss thanks to the Pirates penetrating into the backfield. Yet, Cohen bounced his way off the initial defenders and slipped his way through a few more before finally breaking free for a 37-yard run that flipped the Aggies field position.
The run pretty much defines Cohen.
“I’d like to say that I was running kind of like how my personality is,” Cohen said about the play. “Even when everything is against me, I like to fight through and make things right. I told my whole team at the half that we were not really clicking as an offense, but we were going to just keep pushing and eventually things are going to happen.”
They certainly did after Cohen’s run. A pass interference call on the Pirates and a 12-yard reception by freshman Elijah Bell moved the Aggies closer to scoring. On 2nd-and-3 from the Pirates 15, Cohen again made one of his shifty moves to avoid a tackle before sprinting into the end zone for a touchdown and a 17-3 Aggies lead.
Cohen put more separation between the Aggies and Pirates to open the fourth quarter. After the Pirates (1-3, 1-1 MEAC) decided to go for it on a 4th-and-2 from their own 31. It didn’t work. Redshirt sophomore linebacker Kiaundric Richardson buried Hampton running back Yahkee Johnson for a 1-yard loss. On the next play, Cohen went off-tackle and raced down the sidelines for a 30-yard TD to put the Aggies ahead three touchdowns.
“I kind of felt like I wasn’t running to my full capability in the first half,” said Cohen. “I was tipping. I told my (offensive line) that I was trying to look for the big play too much and was being too patient. I told them at halftime that I was going to start hitting the first hole I see and run harder.”
Cohen ended his night by running through a big hole. Hampton drove the ball to the Aggies 3, but could not convert on a 4th-and-goal. The Aggies took over and two plays later Cohen was sprinting down the field toward a record-breaking 94-yard touchdown with a defender hopelessly trying to catch him. Cohen’s big run gave the Aggies a 31-3 advantage.
“I think Hampton is a football team that has made tremendous progress over the last couple of years, so it was a good win for our football team,” said N.C. A&T head coach Rod Broadway.
Hampton’s other problem besides Cohen was their inability to score touchdowns in the red zone. The Pirates made five trips inside the Aggies 20, but only came away with three points. It also didn’t help that the Pirates muffed the first punt of the game, giving the Aggies a 1st-and-goal at the 3 that led to a Lamar Raynard to Denzel Keyes touchdown reception.
Quarterback Jaylian Williamson did have a good night, completing 32 passes on 54 attempts for 388 yards and a touchdown. Williamson, however, did throw two interceptions including one in the red zone. His favorite target was Rashawn Proctor who had 12 grabs for 188 yards.
“We've been playing pretty good defense for a long time,” said Broadway. “Our number one principle is to stop the run. I don't care if you pass for 1,000 yards, if you can't run the ball on us, you're not going to beat us. It's going to be hard for a straight passing team to beat us. We gave up quite a few yards passing, but we kept the run contained and that made it hard on them inside the 10.”
Cohen was not the only player tampering with the record books. Keyes’ first-quarter touchdown reception was his 19th career TD catch, tying Craig Thompson. Raynard also a had a good night, throwing for 143 yards on 15-for-24 passing, one touchdown and no interceptions. The Aggies have another Thursday night game on ESPNU next week at Aggie Stadium as they host Norfolk State at 7:30 p.m.