DURHAM – When you have the type of success the North Carolina A&T program has had over the past decade it is easy to forget the team that defeated them 45-13 on Saturday night at Wallace Wade Stadium is from a Power Five conference called the ACC and their name is Duke.
While not the in the elite category of their men’s basketball team, the Blue Devils have won three straight bowl games, had a quarterback drafted in the top-10 of the NFL Draft last spring and they have all the advantages that come with being Duke.
Despite being major underdogs on Saturday, however, the Aggies did take the lead twice before the final three minutes of the second half derailed any hopes they had of upsetting the Blue Devils.
“Our young men didn’t quit, and they kept playing,” said N.C. A&T coach Sam Washington. “You have to understand, that’s a Power Five football team. But heck, we were in it for a long time, and I thought we still had a shot in the second half. There is a lot to be said about these young men and where we are. There are just things we need to do better and do them consistently.”
N.C. A&T scored the first points of the game after stopping the Blue Devils on 4th-and-1 from the Duke 40-yard line. Seven plays later, junior placekicker Noel Ruiz booted a 40-yard field goal to give the Aggies a 3-0 first-quarter lead with 7:14 remaining in the first quarter.
Duke took their first lead 75 seconds later as Quentin Harris took advantage of an Aggies defensive back falling to connect with Jalon Calhoun for a 38-yard touchdown pass. N.C. A&T, who came into the game with three wins over Division I-FBS programs in three years, started to give the Aggie faithful hope they would take down the biggest giant of them all as junior running back Jah-Maine Martin ran 66 yards for a touchdown to give the Aggies a 10-7 lead four minutes into the second quarter.
It looked as if the Aggies would have the halftime lead because they still held the same four-point lead with 6 ½ minutes to play in the first half. But Harris and the Blue Devils took over at their own 19 and drove the ball 81 yards over nine plays. The drive ended with Harris finding a wide-open Mateo Durant in the end zone to give the Blue Devils a 14-10 lead with 3:10 to play in the first half.
A fumble on the first play of the Aggies next possession kept Duke’s momentum going. Duke recovered Elijah Bell’s fumble at the Aggies 39. On the next play, Harris connected with Eli Pancol for a 39-yard touchdown pass to put Duke ahead by 11. An Aggies three-and-out allowed the Blue Devils to get one more possession before the end of the half.
Duke turned that into a six-play, 43-yard drive that took only 1:23 off the clock as Harris scored on a six-yard touchdown to give the Blue Devils a 28-10 halftime lead.
“I thought it was a tale of two big plays in that second quarter,” said Washington. “I thought we had a good game plan and I thought the young men were executing that game plan. But the turnover took away “big mo.”’
It gave them life, it gave them hope and they capitalized on it. Give them credit,” Washington concluded.
The Aggies added another Ruiz field goal, a 36-yarder, to pull the Aggies to within 18 at 31-13 with 5:23 remaining in the third quarter. But the Blue Devils (1-1) scored another touchdown late in the third quarter to put the game away.
Martin led the Aggies with 82 yards rushing and a touchdown on 10 carries. Defensively, sophomore Joseph Stuckey led the Aggies with 15 tackles followed by senior Antoine Wilder who had 14, junior Alex Fumbah with 13 and sophomore Kyin Howard finished with 11. Bell moved into second place all-time on the Aggies receiving yards list passing Wallace Miles to finish the game with 2,270 career receiving yards. He only needs 33 more yards to become the school's all-time leader.
The Aggies return to action next week when they travel to Charleston, S.C. to face Charleston Southern 6 p.m, Saturday, Sept. 14.