Aggies are Undefeated MEAC Champions!By Semaj Marsh, Peacemaker Sports / November 22, 2017
It may require the services of Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Truth, but if A&T coach Rod Broadway were ever compelled to speak honestly about this one, he’d probably concede that, in addition to the sense of accomplishment, he also felt a bit of relief when it was all said and done.
Finally, after three straight years of watching the regular season end with disappointing losses to North Carolina Central, the Aggies reestablished bragging rights last weekend, defeating their archrival, 24-10, in front of a sold-out crowd at Aggie Stadium.
The victory allowed A&T to clinch the MEAC Championship outright for the first time since 2003, while achieving a perfect 11-0 record for first time in school history.
It also helped Broadway exorcise some of those maroon-colored demons that have haunted him for a while now.
“I didn’t do anything,” said Broadway afterwards with a wry grin, knowing very well that his program has now captured at least a share of the conference title for the third time in the four years and that he’s won at least nine games during that same time span. “I just enjoyed watching the same beautiful game that you did. I’m just enjoying the ride, brother.”
That ride now includes a trip to Atlanta for the 2017 Celebration Bowl on December 16, where the Aggies will battle the winner of the Southwest Athletic Conference for HBCU supremacy. It will be A&T’s second time playing in this third annual bowl game, having claimed the Black college national championship back in 2016 with a 41-34 win over Alcorn State.
Against NCCU, the Aggies were led offensively by junior quarterback Lamar Raynard who completed 10-of18 passing for 153 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. When he needed a big play he often looked in the direction on sophomore wide out Elijah Bell, who came down with four catches for 82 yards and two touchdowns.
On the ground, the Aggies got strong performances from running backs Marquell Cartwright, who had 20 carries for 60 yards and two touchdowns and University of South Carolina transfer Jamari Smith, who finished with 14 carries for a game-high 99 yards.
“We really committed to the run today,” said Raynard, who improved to 25-0 as A&T’s starting quarterback. “The o-line blocked very well, the receivers blocked downfield and our running backs took advantage of what was there. To throw the ball effectively you have to run the ball, so that’s what we did.”
After a scoreless first quarter, A&T finally got on the scoreboard with six minutes left in the second when Raynard found Bell in the corner of the end zone for a 13 yard touchdown on a fade route.
It appeared that might stand as the lone score of the half, until some sloppy tackling by the Aggies allowed Eagles’ running back Isaiah Torren to break free for a 40 yard gain. That run set up a 52 yard field attempt for NCCU kicker Noel Ruiz, who he narrowly snuck a line drive kick over the crossbar to pull the Eagles to within 7-3 at the break.
In the third quarter, A&T began to dominate the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and gradually seized control of the game.
Thanks to a 25 yard kickoff return by Khris Gardin and a 15 yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, A&T started the third quarter on the Eagles’ 45 yard line. Six plays later, Cartwright bulldozed his way into the end zone from one yard to give the Aggies a 14-3 lead.
After forcing a quick three and out, the Aggies struck again on their next possession with a seven-play, 63 yard drive that was capped by another one-yard Cartwright touchdown run.
That made the score 21-3 and gave A&T all the cushion it would need.
“They have a good defense,” said Broadway about NCCU, his alma mater and former employer. “I’ll give them credit, they know how to win. It’s a winning program the last three, four years, and they’ve done an outstanding job. We weren’t playing against some nobodies. I think we were playing on emotion to start with. Once we settled down we started to focus a little bit better and started playing like we’re capable of playing. We were okay.”
NCCU (7-4, 5-3 MEAC) entered the contest still reeling from the heartbreaking loss it suffered against Bethune-Cookman the previous week on a last-second Hail Mary play.
That frustration was still evident during a pregame melee in which Eagles’ starting strong safety Davanta Reynolds was ejected for throwing a punch. Later in the second half, NCCU team captain Jaquan Lee was ejected for making contact with an official after an A&T touchdown.
Both teams combined for 27 penalties for 217 yards in this game.
“We want to be a class organization,” said Broadway about the chippy play on both sides. “We don’t want to get caught up in that type of stuff.”
As the final seconds expired from the scoreboard and a cooler of water was dumped on Broadway’s shoulders, thousands of joyful Aggie fans in the south end zone ran onto the field just as dozens of joyful A&T football players and coaches were running towards them from the opposite direction.
It was a scene of Aggie euphoria.
“To end the regular-season 11-0 I think says a lot about our coaching staff and the job they have done,” said Broadway. “I think we have a great coaching staff and of course we have some great players. One thing about coaching is you don’t have time to enjoy it as its happening.
Once it’s over, you get a chance to look back and enjoy it a little bit more. Normally, we have a game next week, so let’ move on, go home and get a cigar so we can get ready for tomorrow because you have to start working on the next game. But this time we get to stay home tomorrow, so it may give me a chance to reflect on 11-0. I’m going lay around a watch football all day tomorrow.”
The Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl
MEAC vs. SWAC
Saturday, December 16 at noon