ORANGEBURG, S.C. – Normally when a college football game is a marked as one of the all-time greats in the school’s history, there is a lot of offense involved. North Carolina A&T played in a great one, but there wasn’t much offense involved.
N.C. A&T and S.C. State, the top two defenses in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, bludgeoned the respective opposing offenses for 57 minutes before a peculiar play call, a freshman quarterback and a missed field goal gave No. 16 N.C. A&T a 9-6 win over the Bulldogs at Oliver C. Dawson Stadium.
It was the Aggies first win at Dawson Stadium since 1969, ending a 14-game losing streak. The Aggies beat the Bulldogs for just the second time in 16 previous tries. N.C. A&T improved to 8-1 overall and remained undefeated and in first place in the MEAC by improving to 6-0 with two regular season games – Delaware State and N.C. Central – remaining on the schedule.
“Those were two outstanding defenses out there,” said N.C. A&T head coach Rod Broadway. “Those were two championship football teams playing out there today. Both teams have championship defenses. We knew it came down to who would make the fewest mistakes.”
One mistake in particular will stick out in the mind of Bulldog fans for a long time because it appeared S.C. State (5-4, 4-2 MEAC) had the Aggies right where they wanted them with a little more than three minutes remaining in the game. The Bulldogs led 6-2 and were lined up to punt the ball away from the Aggies 36-yard line. The punt would have likely put the Aggies in bad to moderate field position.
Until that point, S.C. State had stopped All-American running back Tarik Cohen from being a factor in the game and the Aggies only had four completed passes. But instead of a punt, the Bulldogs faked the punt as Jerome Pettiway rolled to his right and threw on the run. Fifth-year N.C. A&T middle linebacker Denzel Jones stepped in front of the intended receiver and intercepted Pettiway’s pass and returned it 25 yards to the SCSU 31.
With redshirt freshman Lamar Raynard struggling to complete passes and senior Kwashaun Quick sidelined with an injury, the Aggies decided to go with true freshman quarterback Kylil Carter to execute the team’s biggest drive of the season. With the ball on the SCSU 17-yard line and facing a 4th-and-6 with 1:44 remaining, the trust in Carter paid off. Carter surveyed the field before firing a laser into the arms of sophomore Khris Gardin in the back of the end zone for a touchdown and a 9-6 Aggies lead.
“It says, ‘and a child shall lead them,’” Broadway said about the Austell, Ga., native Carter. “Raynard had a tough time today. He is struggling for some reason. Quick couldn't go, so we knew we were going to play him, and he can play. He is going to be an outstanding player and to have that kind of composure in that type of situation in a game like this says a lot about that kid.”
If SCSU was demoralized, it didn’t show. The Bulldogs’ offense took possession with 1:39 to play and drove down the field in seconds aided by a 3rd-and-20 conversion and two Aggie penalties that gave them first-and-goal at the Aggies 5 with nine seconds remaining. But on the Bulldogs’ first down play, a bad snap pushed SCSU back 11 yards and forced them to call their final timeout with two seconds to play.
Kicker Tyler Scandrett came on to attempt a 33-yard field goal that he missed wide left as time expired. “The guy just missed the field goal. Thank God he missed it,” said Broadway.
Scandrett’s miss means the Aggies still control their own destiny. If the Aggies win their remaining two games they will win the school’s eighth MEAC championship, 13th overall conference championship and they will earn a spot in the inaugural Celebration Bowl in Atlanta on Dec. 19 against the SWAC champion.
S.C. State had its chances to disrupt those plans. The Bulldogs scored on their first drive of the game on a 30-yard field goal and then had the ball 1st-and-goal on the Aggies 9 after a blocked punt in the third quarter. With the Bulldogs defense playing so well, they had a chance to take a solid lead in the game with a touchdown, but N.C. A&T’s defense held the Bulldogs to three points and a 6-0 lead.
"South Carolina State has an outstanding defense, but hey, so do we,” said Broadway about a defense that also caused a safety on Saturday. “They had some exceptional field position, but we were able to stand up and play with our backs against the wall. To hold those guys to three points when they got the ball on the 9-yard line was big. I thought that was the difference in the ballgame.”
Bethune-Cookman and N.C. Central are still in the hunt for the Celebration bid with only one loss in the conference. The NCCU Eagles come to town on Nov. 21 after the Aggies next game, Nov. 14 at Aggie Stadium against Delaware State at 1 p.m., on ESPN3. The game will air tape delayed on ESPNU at 10 p.m.