Aggies lose to Kennesaw, face long-time rival Hampton this weekBy Semaj Marsh / October 22, 2021
Losing an important conference game with postseason implications is always tough on a football coach. But for A&T head coach Sam Washington, the surprising manner in which his Aggies were defeated by No. 13 ranked Kennesaw State last Saturday was an especially difficult pill to swallow.
For most of the afternoon, Washington’s Blue Death defense rose to the occasion and neutralized the Owl’s vaunted triple option attack, keeping it a one-score game on the road by forcing three turnovers. However, A&T’s normally high-powered offense and dependable special teams units couldn’t hold up their end of the bargain, as the Aggies squandered three trips inside the redzone and were eventually held scoreless in a 14-0 loss.
“Who would have thought that they would have stopped our offense the way that they did?” said Washington afterwards. “I thought defensively we played well. This was our first time playing the triple option and we were able to hold them to 14 points. However, they did have 222 yards rushing and we were hoping to hold them down a little better than that. Offensively, we just couldn’t get anything going. I thought they beat us at the point of attack and had too much penetration at the line of scrimmage.”
It was the first time in seven years and 70 football games that the Aggies have been shut out on the scoreboard. Ironically, that last game also took place in the Peach State when A&T lost 13-0 to South Carolina State in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome in 2014.
Against the Owl’s fierce defense, A&T starting quarterback Jalen Fowler struggled with his reads and accuracy most of the afternoon, completing only 14-of-35 passes for 176 yards. Backup Kingsley Ifedi came in a handful of times to switch up the tempo, but he didn’t attempt a single pass and was held to just four rushing yards on four carries.
Overall, the Aggies were held to a season low 31 yards rushing – their lowest output on the ground in 15 years.
Pre-season All American running back Jah-Maine Martin again looked like a shell of his 2019 self – gaining just 21 rushing yards on 11 carries. Although he ensured fans and the media several weeks ago that he was now 100 percent healthy after a preseason ankle injury, his trademark burst and elusiveness were still nowhere to be found.
This now marks the fourth time in six games that Martin has been held to under 50 rushing yards and no touchdowns.
“Football players make football plays,” said Washington. “And we had very little to no one stepping up and making those plays when we got into one-on-one situations. That made for a very tough ballgame.”
Those uncharacteristic struggles didn’t just reside with the offense.
Freshman kicker Andrew Brown, who was named Big South Special Teams player of the Week three consecutive times entering this game, suffered the worst performance of his young career by shanking a 25-yard field goal attempt on A&T’s opening drive and then missing another 36-yard attempt right before the half.
Michael Rivers, one of the most consistent punters in the nation, also had a rare off day, shanking a pair of punts in the wind that gave the Owls great field position.
The loss dropped A&T to 3-3 overall and 2-1 in the Big South – severely damaging their hopes for a conference title in their inaugural season in the Big South.
With Kennesaw now in the driver’s seat to seize the conference’s automatic berth to the FCS playoffs, the Aggies would likely need to win all five of their remaining games to have a realistic chance at earning at an at-large bid in the 24-team field.
That mission begins this weekend when the Aggies travel up to Hampton, Va. to face their former MEAC conference foe for the first time in five years. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. Saturday at Hampton’s Armstrong Stadium.
The Aggies have won three straight games against the Pirates, the last one being a 31-9 victory in 2016 against then-coach Connel Maynor.
Hampton enters the contest in the midst of three-game losing streak after suffering a 35-3 loss to Charleston Southern last weekend. The Pirates have scored just one touchdown in their first two Big South games this season and are currently 0-2 in the conference and 2-4 overall.
However, the Pirates do have some talent on their roster, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Junior wide out Jadakis Bond stands 6’4” and has racked up 514 receiving yards and five touchdowns this year.
“They are a very big, powerful, explosive team,” said Washington. “I was very impressed watching them on tape. They can run the ball and their quarterback has two dynamic receivers to throw to. Perhaps the best receiver that we have faced so far this year.”
In addition to renewing this historic rivalry, the Aggies will also be looking to win away from Truist Stadium for the first time in what seems like ages. A&T has lost five straight away games, including all three road games this season.
“We’re going to have to be very disciplined when we go up there,” said Washington. “We’re going to have to get some pass rush and we’re to have to do a good job in the secondary, keeping everything underneath us. We’ve got to keep their quick strikes and explosive plays to a bare minimum.”