EAST GREENSBORO – There are not too many true freshmen who can play for a defense North Carolina A&T head coach Sam Washington is associated with.
Freshman linebacker Jacob Roberts is their exception. Saturday afternoon he showed why. In first-ever Greatest Homecoming on Earth, Roberts recorded 15 tackles, three sacks and had six tackles for loss as the Aggies obliterated Howard University 64-6 in front of a sellout crowd of 21,500 at BB&T Stadium.
The win gives the Aggies (5-2, 3-1 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference), the 18th-ranked team in the nation, their ninth straight homecoming win. The Aggies have won by an average margin of 32.4 points in those nine victories. Howard dropped to 1-7 on the season and 1-3 in the MEAC.
Roberts and the Aggies defense held Howard to 173 yards of offense. Senior Chris Moseley had two interceptions, and Howard freshman quarterback Quinton Williams was sacked six times.
“He was a one-man wrecking crew,” said N.C. A&T coach Sam Washington about Roberts' performance. “Since the first day I told him, there’s only one other freshman who has played for me. He has made me proud ever since that moment. I’m expecting much more from him.”
Roberts, who made his first career start last week at Florida A&M, is third on the team in tackles with 45. He made plays in the open field, in Howard’s backfield and on special teams on Saturday.
“It was fun out there,” said Roberts. “This was my first homecoming. The guys told me it was going to be lit, and it sure was.”
N.C. A&T’s defense had plenty of help from the offense. Junior running back Jah-Maine Martin had another superb afternoon as he rushed for 138 yards and three touchdowns on just seven carries. Martin averaged an incredible 19.7 yards per career as he had touchdowns runs of 65, 55 and nine.
He now has 15 touchdowns on the season putting only four touchdowns shy of breaking the conference’s single-season rushing touchdown record held by N.C. A&T’s Tarik Cohen. He needs five touchdowns to break Cohen’s single-season total touchdowns record.
“I have to thank my O-line because I don’t get touched by a D-lineman or a linebacker. It’s usually just me and the (defensive backs),” said Martin. “It’s a great feeling to see all the alumni coming back. I saw (former all-conference Aggies running back Marquell Cartwright) on the sideline. He was the first person to reach out to me when I signed here, so I wanted to put on a little show for him.”
Martin was not the only one putting on a show. The wideouts had a good day too. Senior Elijah Bell and junior Zachary Leslie combined 214 yards receiving and three touchdowns. Bell caught five passes for 94 yards and two TD’s, while Leslie had 120 yards receiving and a touchdown on four receptions.
Graduate quarterback Kylil Carter was efficient again for N.C. A&T as he threw for 176 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions on 9-for-13 passing. He also had a rushing touchdown on the afternoon.
“This is definitely the atmosphere we wanted for Homecoming 2019,” said Washington. “I thought the guys came out really prepared and really focused. The energy was fantastic. We had a very good week of practice and that’s where it all begins.”
The Aggies took the game’s opening kickoff and drove the ball 50 yards on seven plays and got a 27-yard field goal from junior Noel Ruiz to take a 3-0 lead. N.C. A&T, who has had a quick-strike offense all season, scored on two plays with their next possession as Martin’s 65-yard run gave the Aggies a 10-0 lead.
Howard then put together an impressive drive using a combination of Williams’ legs and his arm to convert four third downs on a 16-play, 78-yard drive. It ended with Williams running in from 12 yards out to score Howard’s first points of the game. On the drive, Williams had 33 yards rushing and was 4-for-7 for 38 yards passing.
N.C. A&T went three-and-out on their next drive and then showed Howard no mercy. The Aggies scored on their next eight drives. Their final four drives of the first half included a 48-yard field goal from Ruiz, a 55-yard TD run from Martin, a 28-yard run from Carter and a 40-yard touchdown pass from Carter to Bell to give the Aggies a 34-6 halftime lead.
The tradition of Homecoming here is great,” said Washington. “The fans here are so supportive, and I mean financially. Everybody cannot say that. Our fans give and we’re appreciative. When they come back and we’re able to serve them, we are happy to do so.”
With freshmen like Roberts, the Aggies hope to serve the fans with many more Homecoming wins. The Aggies have now won six straight over the Bison, the longest winning streak in the series for A&T. They have won those six games by an average margin of 31.3 points.
The Aggies go on the road next week to face S.C. State in Orangeburg, S.C. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:30 p.m, at Oliver C. Stadium. The game will air live on ESPN3 and will be rebroadcasted on ESPNU.