Eagles soar over Aggies, win share of MEAC titleBy Lut Williams, BCSP / November 30, 2015
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N.C. A&T to represent MEAC at Celebration Bowl in Atlanta
The North Carolina Central defense kept the North Carolina A&T offense out of the end zone until late in the fourth quarter while the Eagles ground out a 21-16 win over the Aggies to earn a share of its second straight MEAC title with a season-ending upset of A&T for the second straight year.
NCCU (8-3, 7-1 MEAC) got 167 rushing yards (20 carries) and its final touchdown on a 16-yard run by freshman running back Dorrell McClain in the fourth quarter. Junior quarterback Malcolm Bell threw for 200 yards (14-28-1) and scored the Eagles’ first score on a three-yard second-quarter run.The result leaves A&T and NCCU tied for the MEAC title along with Bethune-Cookman (9-2, 7-1), who had a later start vs. Florida A&M in Orlando and knocked off the Rattlers, 35-14.
McClain’s score extended a 14-10 lead to 21-10 early in the fourth quarter. The Aggies (9-2, 7-1) finally got their offense on track, answering with an 11-play, 44-yard drive culminating in a 1-yard fourth-down pass from back-up quarterback Kylil Carter to Dequan Swann with 7:10 left. A two-point conversion attempt was no good and left the Aggies trailing 21-16.
After stopping the Eagles, A&T got the ball back with 4:11 left at its own 44. After one first down, the Aggies faced a 4th-and-one at the NCCU 35. On what appeared to be a busted play, Carter dropped back, was hit by NCCU linebacker Jordan Miles and fumbled, with NCCU recovering with 2:15 to play.
A&T got one final chance after an NCCU punt, receiving the ball at their own 10 with 1:27 left. Carter passed and picked his way to three first downs before he was sacked by NCCU lineman Richard Mitchell at the NCCU 49 as time expired.
A&T junior Tarik Cohen, the MEAC’s leading rusher, was bottled up most of the day, held to just 15 yards on ten first-half carries. But he broke loose for two long second-half runs, one that put the Aggies in scoring position. He ran for 46 yards down to the NCCU 14 early in the third quarter. Three plays later, placekicker Cody Jones was wide right on a 26-yard field goal attempt. Cohen also had a 30-yard run on another third-quarter possession that ended in a Steve Sawicki punt. Cohen finished with 112 yards on 22 carries.
A&T subbed in freshman quarterback Carter for senior Kwashaun Quick early in the fourth quarter after Quick had mustered just 200 yards leading the Aggie offense, hitting on 12 of 23 passes for just 72 yards while rushing for 23 yards on seven carries.
“I should have known better,” said A&T head coach Rod Broadway of his decision to play Quick. “He has been injured and out for the last two games. He didn’t play well but it’s not his fault.”
Defensive back Theo Livingstone led the Eagle defense with 13 tackles, 12 solos and three for losses. Miles added nine stops including 2.5 for losses. Mitchell led the Eagles with two sacks. The Eagles had 11 tackles for losses. The win also gives second-year NCCU head coach Jerry Mack his second win over the Aggies in as many tries.
A year ago in the heated rivalry in Durham (N. C.), NCCU also knocked off the Aggies on the season’s final day, 21-14 as A&T sought to claim the outright title. That upset win left NCCU and A&T as parts of an unprecedented five-way tie for the MEAC crown.
The North Carolina A&T State University Aggies will represent the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) in the inaugural Celebration Bowl. The game is slated for December 19 at Noon at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Georgia. The game will air live on ABC.
“We are excited to announce that North Carolina A&T State will serve as the MEAC representative in the Inaugural Celebration Bowl,” said MEAC Commissioner Dennis Thomas. “To have three teams fighting down to the wire for their chance to serve as this year’s representative continues to demonstrate the strong parity and tremendous talent of these student-athletes and coaching staffs in the MEAC.
North Carolina A&T State rose to the top of the MEAC’s tiebreaker formula following a three-way tie for first place along with Bethune-Cookman and North Carolina Central. Based on the league’s tie-breaking procedure, that bid goes to A&T based on its higher Sagarin ranking, a rating system used by the NCAA. A&T was ranked 137th in the nation among Div. I programs. B-CU was 175th. All three teams will share the conference’s regular season title with a finishing mark of 7-1 in MEAC competition.
The Celebration Bowl pits the conference champion from the MEAC and the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) against one another in a postseason bowl game. North Carolina A&T State will face the winner of the SWAC Championship game scheduled for December 5 in Houston, Texas.