GREENSBORO - When North Carolina A&T defeated S.C. State
17-7 Saturday afternoon at Aggie Stadium, it did not deliver A&T a MEAC football championship. But for the many fans at the stadium and following the game
online, it sure felt pretty close.
A&T's win guaranteed the Aggies (6-4, 4-3 MEAC) their
first winning season since 2003. That happens to be the last time the Aggies
won the MEAC title. After winning the '03 title, the A&T program went
through numerous humbling and difficult situations. Whether it was the 27-game
losing streak or the tragic death of offensive lineman Chad Wiley, to
paraphrase Langston Hughes, life ain't been no crystal stair.
But the program seems to be coming out of its funk as
evidenced by its Saturday s victory over a team, S.C. State, it defeated for
the first time in 12 years. It made for a glorious senior day for the 18 Aggies
playing their final football game at Aggie Stadium.
"It is so gratifying to see our guys leave this way," said
A&T coach Rod Broadway about his seniors. "I think we've only loss two home
games in two years since we've been here. That's change. That's a positive change
around here. They’ve earned everything they’ve gotten. No one has given
Indeed, it was an inspiring effort by the Aggies. The game
started with a 96-yard kickoff return by S.C. State's Jakar Hamilton. A&T,
which boast the second-ranked defense in the nation, used its talented defense
to keep the Bulldogs from scoring any further. The Aggies special teams also
played a role in keeping the game in reach until the Aggies were able to score.
Junior D'Vonte Graham blocked two first-half Bulldog field
goal attempts in the first half. The Aggies also had their opportunities to
score, but the Bulldogs (4-6, 3-4 MEAC) were just as resilient as A&T over
the first 2 ½ quarters. A&T quarterback Kwashaun Quick was looking to score
from the Bulldogs 5-yard line in the first quarter, but was hit at the 1 and
fumbled the ball into the end zone for a Bulldogs touchback. The Aggies also
missed a first-quarter field goal and trailed 7-0 at the half.
"They punched and we countered punched the whole game," said
Graham. "Eventually, we just wore them down."
The wearing down process materialized over a 16-second time
period in the fourth quarter. A&T took its first lead of the game with a
little less than eight minutes remaining in the game. That is when Ricky Lewis
went off-tackle, ran through tackles and sprinted to the end zone for a 34-yard
touchdown run to give A&T a 10-7 lead. Seconds later, Bulldogs quarterback Richard
Cue rolled to his right and tossed the ball to receiver Caleb Davis.
Davis fumbled the ball, but did not go after because he
thought it was an incomplete pass. Graham, the Aggies cornerback, saw it
differently. He picked up the ball and ran 10 yards into the end zone. The play
was ruled a backwards lateral, and thus the fumble recovery gave the Aggies
outstanding defense a 10-point cushion with 7:38 remaining in the game.
"It's just instinct really," said Graham about the play that
sealed the win for A&T. "Whenever you see a bubble screen or any type of
play behind the line of scrimmage, we practice if the ball hits the ground,
pick it up. I mean what does it hurt us if the play is blown dead? I just
scooped it up. Why not try to score?"
Graham and the Aggies defense continued its dominance.
A&T has not allowed an offensive touchdown in 14 quarters. They have held
their last three opponents to less than 300 yards of offense.
"I know it has been a long time since someone has scored a
touchdown on our defense, but I didn't want them to score at all," said Graham
about his two blocked field goals and fumble recovery. "I take pride in
stopping a team from scoring."
On the offensive end, the Aggies rushed for 250 yards led by
senior Mike Mayhew's 141 yards. Lewis added 82 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
S.C. State will endure its first losing season under 11-year head coach Buddy
Pough. Pough also lost to the Aggies for the first time in 11 games. The Aggies
will close out the 2012 season against archrival N.C. Central in Durham on Nov.
17 at 2 p.m. A win will go even further in helping the Aggies put the past nine
years behind them.
"We're going to prepare for them like any other game," said
A&T quarterback Lewis Kindle. "It will mean a lot to the program if we could
get to 7-4. To get up for a rivalry game shouldn't be hard for any of us."