TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – After a three-week hiatus, luck finally found its way to the field for the North Carolina A&T football team. Florida A&M kicker Chase Varnadore missed an extra point with 19 seconds remaining, leaving the door open for A&T to snap a three-game losing streak with a 20-13 overtime win at Bragg Memorial Stadium.
It was the Aggies first win in Tallahassee, Fla., in 13 years. Freshman Aggies running back Tarik Cohen led the way with a season-best 210 yards and three touchdowns on 32 carries. His performance helped him surpass Barry Turner’s 23-year old school freshman rushing record of 556 yards. Cohen now has 610 yards on the season.
“He’s small, but he is special and he is tough,” said A&T head coach Rod Broadway. “He has great vision and a great change of direction. He’s a warrior. We just have to find more creative ways to get him the ball in open space, and let him make plays for us.”
Cohen’s day was almost spoiled by something FAMU didn’t do the majority of the game, move the ball against A&T’s defense. The Aggies held FAMU to 179 total yards. Eighty-one of those yards came on FAMU’s final drive of regulation with A&T leading 13-7. The Rattlers’ game-tying, 13-play, 96-yard drive was highlighted by two spectacular plays from FAMU quarterback Damien Fleming.
On 4th-and-2 from the FAMU 12-yard line, Fleming escaped the clutches of several A&T defenders, scrambled forward and threaded a pass into the hands of Lenworth Lennon for a 5-yard gain. Three plays later, he escaped another Aggie pass rush to pick up 19 yards to the A&T 42-yard line. Faced with 3rd-and-3 from the A&T 23, Fleming unleashed a pass over the outside shoulder Casey Glines as the ball innocently sailed out of bounds.
But a pass interference call on Ayodeji Olatoye sent Broadway, who was visibly upset by the call, into a rage. It also gave the Rattlers a first down. Fleming took advantage by finding Dewayne Harvey in the end zone to tie the game at 13 with 19 seconds remaining.
Varnadore’s attempt to give FAMU the lead was hooked left, sending A&T into its first overtime in four years.
“It is a combination of being good and being lucky,” said Broadway. “I’m going to say this until I’m blue in the face. Great teams win close ball games. If we would have won the three ball games we lost by five points, we’d be in great position right now. If we would have won two of the games, we’d be in great position. But to be a great team you have to win those close ball games. Right now we’re not good enough to beat people by two touchdowns, three touchdowns because we can’t score, so we just have to take advantage of what we get.”
A&T accepted the gift and then gave FAMU more of Cohen in return. Cohen carried the ball all four times on A&T’s first and only possession of overtime. He was aided by a 7-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Cohen ended the drive with an 8-yard touchdown run. Cody Jones made the all-important extra point to give A&T the seven-point advantage.
FAMU (2-6, 1-3 MEAC) then got its opportunity with the ball at the opponent’s 25. But the A&T defense that had been present the majority of the game returned. Fleming was sacked by Daniel Pinnix and James Morris on first down. On fourth down, free safety Isaiah Martin intercepted Fleming’s pass to give A&T (4-3, 2-3 MEAC) the win.
“We’ve gave them seven points. It is always a big concern of mine when we give people points,” said Broadway. “If we don’t give them points, the game doesn’t come down to what it came down to.”
The Aggies led 7-0 for 2 ½ quarters. But when Lewis Kindle tried to make a play under duress, his pass was tipped into the arms of Shaun Ward for a 17-yard pick-6 that tied the game at 7 with 8:03 remaining in the third quarter. The Aggies answered with old fumblerooski play. Cohen picked the ball up on the deception and ran 27 yards for a touchdown. But Jones missed the extra point, leading to the late-game drama.
D’Vonte Grant led the Aggies defensively with 11 tackles and 3.0 tackles for loss. Cohen’s big day offset A&T’s 18 yards passing. The Aggies will play Virginia University of Lynchburg for homecoming next week at Aggie Stadium. Game time is 1 p.m.