DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (October 20, 2018) – Hold on before placing that wreath on North Carolina A&T’s season.
All-MEAC receiver Elijah Bell looked like Elijah Bell. N.C. A&T’s defense looked like N.C. A&T’s defense and the Aggies once again looked dominant in a 35-10 win over the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats Saturday evening at Daytona Stadium.
N.C. A&T (6-2, 3-1 MEAC) kept their postseason hopes intact with their fourth straight win over the Wildcats. Whether that postseason opportunity comes from advancing to the annual Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl or an NCAA FCS playoff bid is still to be determined considering there are three games remaining on the regular-season schedule and the Aggies have no room for error.
But at least on Saturday, the Aggies played like a team with its season on the line. They also played like a team who refocused after their 1-point loss to Florida A&M at BB&T Stadium last week. It did not hurt that Bell looked healthy after a season where nagging injuries have hampered him.
A healthy Bell makes N.C. A&T’s passing attack lethal. Bell had his first 100-yard receiving game of the season and the fourth of his career with five catches for 105 yards and a touchdown. It marked the third straight game an Aggies receiver has gone over 100 yards receiving following fifth-year Malik Wilson’s 100-yard plus performance at Delaware State and sophomore Zachary Leslie’s career performance versus Florida A&M.
“It was a dream come true to see him play like that,” said N.C. A&T coach Sam Washington. “But I knew he would play well today. He had a great week of practice. I told him, ‘hey son, you’re back.’ “
“I’m glad he showed up and played that way,” Washington continued.
Before Bell turned into Bell again, the Aggies special teams jumped into action early. For the second straight week, the Aggies blocked a punt. This time it was senior Terrence Peterson who broke through for the block. The block gave the Aggies a 1st-and-10 from the B-CU 14-yard line. Six plays later fifth-year back Marquell Cartwright trucked in from 1-yard out to give the Aggies a 6-0 first-quarter lead after the extra point was missed. Cartwright scored after running three yards on a 4th-and-2 during the drive.
“Whenever you make those types of plays it gives you momentum, energy,” said Washington about the blocked punt. “Those things really work in your favor.”
Apparently, that’s true. After the Wildcats went three-and-out, the Aggies took over at their own 24. Two plays later, sophomore Jah-Maine Martin was in the end zone after a career-long 67-yard touchdown run to put the Aggies ahead 13-0. The Aggies were a dropped interception away from keeping the Wildcats scoreless.
The drop allowed Wildcats kicker Uriel Hernandez to kick a 40-yard field goal to cut the Aggies lead to 13-3. The 12-play, 52-yard drive was the longest of the day for a team who came into the game averaging 35.6 points per game.
“We felt like that had a lot to do with who they played,” said Washington about the Wildcats high-scoring offense. “They scored something like 70 points against Virginia Lynchburg, so that figure can be deceptive. But we knew we still had to play well defensively because they have some tremendous athletes on offense.”
N.C. A&T’s main focus was on B-CU quarterback Akevious Williams and his ability to run the football. The Aggies limited his effectiveness by sacking him three times, holding him to 19 yards rushing and just 108 yards passing.
While Williams was ineffective, the Aggies fifth-year quarterback Lamar Raynard was not. Raynard continued the Aggies offensive onslaught in the first half. A 31-yard completion to Bell set up Raynard’s 19-yard touchdown pass to redshirt freshman Quinzel Lockhart to open the second quarter.
Raynard’s toss gave the Aggies a 19-3 lead after the extra point was missed. Lockhart became the 17th different receiver to catch a TD pass from Raynard. N.C. A&T added another score before the half when Raynard found wide open junior Ron Hunt for a 55-yard touchdown pass. It was the longest reception of Hunt’s career and the catch gave the Aggies a 26-3 halftime lead. Raynard was 11-for-14 for 189 yards and two touchdowns for the game.
“We had a good half. I would like to see us move the football like that all the time,” said Washington. “But we did a good job of taking whatever they gave us. I thought we did a very good job of that early.”
A week earlier the Aggies lost a 21-6 halftime lead to Florida A&M. That issue was corrected on Saturday. Even though the Wildcats did score first in the second half on a fumble recovery in the end zone after Williams ran 31 yards before fumbling the ball into the end zone, the Wildcats only had 103 yards of offense in the second half.
"We worked on and talked about finishing,” said Washington. “I thought our offense did a better job this week of keeping our defense off the field in the second half. Last week, we were three-and-out and our defense was right back on the field. When you get winded you make bad decisions and you miss tackles that you normally would make.”
An off-week awaits the Aggies before they host Norfolk State 1 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 3 at BB&T Stadium for the Greatest Homecoming on Earth. N.C. A&T has won seven straight homecomings.
“Right now the off-week could not come at a better time. We’re not injured but we’re banged up,” said Washington. “We have a lot of kids who need to heal. We need to give them some time off and just let their bodies recover.”
Similar to how the Aggies recovered their season on Saturday.