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VUL Receives The Aggie Special

Courtesy: NC A&T Sports Information
          Release: 09/16/2012
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Junior D'Vonte Graham celebrates after his 65-yard punt return in the first quarter of A&T's 40-7 win over VUL. Photo by Kevin L. Dorsey
Courtesy: NC A&T Sports Information
GREENSBORO -- In the course of scoring 117 points over the past two weeks, North Carolina A&T has blocked two punts, returned two punts for touchdowns (one was called back) and kicker Zach Cimaglia has gone 14-for-14 in extra points and 4-for-5 in field goals.

Somehow, special doesn't seem an appropriate enough word for how spectacular the Aggies' special teams have played. On Saturday, the Aggies clubbed another overmatched opponent at Aggie Stadium with a 40-7 win over Virginia University of Lynchburg. Cimaglia connected on four field goals, including three from 40-yards plus.

Junior punt returner D'Vonte Graham returned a punt 65 yards for a touchdown, and senior Leroy Bradford and junior Demonta Brown joined in on the special teams celebration as Bradford blocked a VUL punt and Brown recovered it for a touchdown.

"Of course you always want to score more touchdowns, but give them credit, they stopped us," said A&T head coach Rod Broadway. "They had some good athletes out there. But I thought our kicking game was big today. We thought we could make some plays today in the kicking game because of the way they covered. I thought D'Vonte was big for us. If he can flip the field for us like that the rest of the season, he is going to put us in position to win some games."

The other phases of the game were not bad either. Quarterback Lewis Kindle completed passes to nine different receivers on his way to passing for 217 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Defensively, the Aggies have not surrendered a touchdown in nine quarters. VUL's only score came on a 45-yard interception return by Keith Lewis toward the end of the first quarter.

"We focus in on every down. We don't want anyone to get a yard," said A&T junior strong safety Travis Crosby.  He finished the night with a team-high eight tackles. "We know if on every down everyone is running to the ball, it's going to be hard to score on us," he added.

While the Aggies defense was stellar, including holding the Dragons to just 32 yards of offense in the second half, it was the Aggies special teams that established itself as the major factor on Saturday. After the Dragons first drive stalled, Graham returned the opening punt 29 yards to the VUL 27-yard line.

Most of the yardage was lost because of an illegal block. It didn't matter. Kindle marched the Aggies 63 yards in six plays, and culminated the drive with an 18-yard touchdown pass Darren Bullock. After a VUL three-and-out, punter Chris Vasquez had his punt blocked by Bradford and recovered by Brown for a 14-0 Aggies lead in the first seven minutes of the game.

But VUL would have its moments. The Dragons regained possession, replaced starting Avery Neloms with Emmanuel Yeager and drove 57 yards to the Aggies 16 to set up a 33-yard field goal attempt that Vasquez missed to the right. Moments later, Kindle threw his"pick-6" as VUL's Ian Knight flushed him out of the pocket. In an attempt to avoid being sacked, he fired the ball downfield before squaring his body. Lewis was waiting for misfire as he coasted into the end zone.

 "Any time you have any type of adversity, you have to show you can come back strong," said Kindle. "I think carrying that into the upcoming conference games is going to be real important because things aren't always going to go the way we plan. After the interception, we had to show we could get back on it and get into the end zone."

Graham assisted in the redemption by returning the ensuing kickoff 32 yards to the A&T 44. It didn't take long for Kindle to get over his hiccup. Three plays into the Aggies' drive, he spotted freshman Marquis Gorham running free down the middle of the field. The two connected for a 34-yard touchdown pass and a 21-7 A&T advantage with 1:42 remaining in the first quarter.

Graham added the Aggies final touchdown of the night as he opened the second quarter with a 65-yard punt return. It was the first Aggies punt return for a touchdown since Brandon Trusty returned one 88 yards versus Morgan State on Oct. 8, 2005.

"I had a lot of space between me and their defenders," said Graham. "My blockers did a good job of holding them up. I made a couple of moves and just went down the sideline. When they closed in, I made one more move and I was in the end zone."

Cimaglia, who has scored 33 points in three weeks of action, went on to post the Aggies' final 12 points.

Now, the Aggies must translate their strong special teams play into conference wins. A&T will have 12 days to prepare for its first MEAC foe of the season, Morgan State. The two rivals will settle things in front a national television audience on ESPNU 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 27 at Aggie Stadium. National recording artist Fantasia will sing the National Anthem.

"We've got to get a lot better," said Broadway. "Any time you can shutout some in today's game, it's remarkable. But we've got to get better."  

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