EAST GREENSBORO – The biggest scare for North Carolina A&T head football coach Sam Washington was not junior Noel Ruiz’s game-winning 52-yard field goal as time expired that downed No. 21 Elon 24-21 Saturday night at BB&T Stadium.
Despite Ruiz missing two prior field goals in the game, Washington has witnessed Ruiz hit 50 yarders plenty of times in practice. The scariest part for Washington was the play that happened before the field goal attempt. The 19th-ranked Aggies nearly ran the clock out on the previous play which would have sent the game into overtime.
Instead, a play that started with nine seconds remaining in the game and included graduate quarterback Kylil Carter scramble around the field before tossing a pass downfield that Korey Banks caught out of bounds, left one second on the clock.
There was enough time for Ruiz to boot the game-winner despite missing from 43 and 40 yards earlier in the game.
“It was not even a thought. It really wasn’t,” said Washington after being asked if he thought about not allowing Ruiz to attempt a game-winning field goal. “We didn’t even have a conversation about it. The key was not letting the clock run out. I thought that would have been the dumbest thing that could have happened.”
Washington said he did not even watch the play that ended with Banks landing out of bounds because he was too busy see if the clock was going to tick down to zero. The one second remaining on the clock allowed Ruiz to make history.
His 52-yard field goal tied a school record first set by Yonnick Mathews on Sept. 27, 2003 at Elon. It was the Aggies first 50-yard field goal since Carlos Davalos hit a 50-yarder in Raleigh to beat N.C. Central in 2004. Ruiz also has the Aggies first game-winning field goal since Davalos’ kick against NCCU.
“I really didn’t adjust anything,” Ruiz said about his final kick. “I still trusted everything. I knew I had it in me. My teammates really helped me out big time, but I didn’t change a thing.”
All three of Ruiz’s attempts had plenty of leg and they all occurred in the fourth quarter with the game tied at 21. His first missed kick went wide left and left the game tied with 10:07 remaining. The second missed kick also went to left leaving 2:35 on the clock.
Elon took over at their own 23-yard line and sophomore defensive end Jermaine McDaniel earned his third sack of the game by dropping Elon quarterback Davis Cheek for a 12-yard loss. After an incompletion and a 1-yard run, the Phoenix were forced to punt. Stephenson boomed a 52-yarder that Banks returned for 20 yards setting the Aggies up 1st-and-10 at the Elon 38 with 25 seconds remaining.
On the first play of the drive, Carter ran four yards leading to the Aggies quickly having to spike the ball to stop the clock because they had no timeouts remaining. The Aggies then decided to run another play. A play that Washington said scared the “dickens” out of him. Once the scare was over, it was game-winning time.
“This guy and I go way back,” Washington said referring to Ruiz. “We practice together every day. Not somedays, but we practice together every day. I’ve been saying he is the most improved player on this team. He came into that situation with so much confidence.”
Ruiz was not the only Aggie making history Saturday night. Senior wide receiver Elijah Bell became the Aggies all-time leader in touchdown receptions with a remarkable one-handed grab in the back of the end zone from five yards out.
It was the 26th touchdown reception of his career passing Denzel Keyes. Bell also had nine receptions for 93 yards pushing him closer to becoming the Aggies all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards. In only the second start of his career, Carter was 16-for-27 for 193 yards and two touchdown passes with no interceptions. Linebacker Kyin Howard led the Aggies defensively with 10 tackles.
The Phoenix jumped on the board first thanks to a 5-yard TD run by De’Sean McNair in the first quarter. The Aggies tied the game on a 1-yard run by junior Jah-Maine Martin in the second quarter. The Aggies took a 14-7 lead into the half thanks to Bell’s record-breaking TD catch. Five minutes into the third quarter, McNair bounced to the outside to score on a 2-yard run to tie the game at 14.
Quinzel Lockart put the Aggies back in front four minutes later with a 10-yard TD reception from Carter. But Elon tied the game at 21 going into the exciting fourth quarter with a Cheek touchdown pass to Kortez Weeks for 14 yards.
“I was upset with him, but I never lost confidence in him,” Washington said about Ruiz fourth quarter of kicks. “I trusted him, and he delivered.”
The Aggies return to action next week when they take on the Duke Blue Devils of the ACC 6 p.m., Saturday at Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham. N.C. A&T has defeated an FBS opponent three straight seasons. They are 0-2 against ACC schools.