ORANGEBURG, S.C. (September 30, 2017) – Winning at South Carolina State is only supposed to be pretty when it shows up on the left side of the standings column. The North Carolina A&T football team played another hard-hitting, ugly, defensive slugfest at Oliver C. Dawson Stadium against the Bulldogs that resulted in the Aggies (ranked 13th in the NCAA Coaches Poll and 17th in the FCS STATS Media Poll) improving to 5-0 overall and 2-0 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference with a 21-7 win.
The Aggies have now won three straight at S.C. State for the first time since the 1998, 1999 and 2000 seasons. It is also the second time in as many trips to Dawson Stadium the Aggies have held the Bulldogs to under 10 points. That has not happened since 1969 and ‘71. The Aggies were 9-6 winners in 2015.
“We’ll take it,” said N.C. A&T coach Rod Broadway. “This is a tough place to play. We are going to go back and get some things fixed because we turned the ball over more than we normally do today. But we are never going to complain about winning, especially against a team like this.”
The Aggies defense held the Bulldogs (1-3, 0-2 MEAC) to only 279 yards of offense and 82 yards rushing as the Bulldogs are off to their first 0-2 start since 2001. Fifth-year free safety Jeremy Taylor was integral in all three of S.C. State’s turnovers. Taylor finished with three tackles, two forced fumbles, an interception and a pass break up.
Taylor’s first big play came in the second quarter with N.C. A&T leading 9-0. Dewann Ford broke free of Aggie defenders and was racing toward the end zone. Taylor caught the speedy Ford and conducted a tomahawk chop to Ford’s outside shoulder, forcing the ball out and onto the ground where redshirt sophomore Darryl Johnson recovered the ball at the Aggies 22-yard line.
N.C. A&T then did an excellent job of turning what could have been a score for the Bulldogs into a positive for themselves. The Aggies put together a 9-play, 54-yard drive that resulted in a 41-yard field goal by freshman Noel Ruiz to give the Aggies a 12-0 with 59 seconds remaining in the first half. It was the second of three field goals for Ruiz on Saturday.
A rarity would happen to the Aggies to open the second half as redshirt junior Lamar Raynard threw an interception to Jason Baxter at the SCSU 27. It was Raynard’s first pick in 158 straight throws. But again, the Aggies responded by forcing the Bulldogs to punt. Five plays later, the Bulldogs again threatened to score as SCSU blocked the Aggies punt and got the ball at the Aggies 30. Taylor turned the Aggies misfortunes into prosperity again by forcing a Tyrece Nick fumble.
Three plays later Raynard found Xavier Griffin for a 71-yard touchdown pass to give the Aggies an 18-0 lead with 3:45 remaining in the third quarter. It was the longest completion of Raynard’s career.
“Those were big,” Broadway said about the Aggies forced turnovers. “Usually we try to get out of the game without making any turnovers. Even though we made some tonight, it balanced out pretty well for us. We were able to keep them out of the end zone with those turnovers, so they were huge.”
The Bulldogs did put up some points in the fourth quarter Ford connected with Trey Samuel for a 33-yard touchdown pass that cut the Aggies lead to 18-7. N.C. A&T then went to work on the clock. The Aggies constructed a 15-play, 70-yard drive that ended with Ruiz kicking a 27-yard field goal. The drive was extended when the Bulldogs committed a personal foul on an Aggies field goal attempt. The drive and the penalty that extended took eight minutes off the fourth-quarter clock as the Aggies increased their lead to 21-7 with only four minutes remaining in the game.
“Sometimes when you start doing that it takes you out of rhythm,” said Broadway. “We didn’t want to take all the air out of it. But once we got in the fourth quarter, we wanted to get (the play clock) inside five seconds before we got a play off.”
Raynard had another good day going 18-for-31 for 298 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Redshirt junior Marquell Cartwright, the MEAC’s leading rusher, had 96 yards on 24 carries.
The Aggies will go after their best start in 24 years when they host the Greatest Homecoming On Earth on Saturday at Aggie Stadium. Kickoff is at 1 p.m., against Delaware State. Follow Aggie Athletics on Facebook (@ncatathletics), Instagram (@ncatathletics) and Twitter (@ncataggies).