A&T keeps Bowl hopes alive with win over Norfolk StateBy Semaj Marsh, Peacemaker Contributor / November 9, 2018
There were no confirmed sightings of legendary A&T alumnus Jesse Jackson Sr. around campus last weekend during the Greatest Homecoming on Earth, but he would have been pleased to know the Aggie football team heeded his famous advice and made enough big plays down the stretch to keep their postseason hopes alive.
After a sluggish start, A&T leaned on a dominant ground attack in the second half and clamped down defensively to pull away from Norfolk State, 37-20, in front of an overflow crowd at BB&T Stadium.
The Aggies dominated the line of scrimmage, rushing for a combined 310 yards while holding the Spartans to just 62 yards on the ground.
Thanks to Florida A&M’s surprise loss to Howard last weekend, the Aggies (7-2 overall, 4-1 MEAC) are now once again tied for first place in the conference. However, since FAMU holds the head-to-head tiebreaker, A&T will need to win out and have the Rattlers to drop their final MEAC game against Bethune-Cookman on November 17 to clinch a conference title.
Yet, even if the Aggies are unable to get enough help from the Wildcats for a return trip to the Celebration Bowl, they’ll still have chance to reach the postseason by winning their final two regular season games against Savannah State and arch-rival North Carolina Central.
The Aggies are currently 13th in the FCS Coaches Poll and would likely earn an at-large bid into the 24-team playoffs with a 9-2 record.
“I feel like if we play like we’re supposed to play, worry about what we have left on our schedule and finish the season strong then everything will fall into place,” said fifth-year running back Marquell Cartwright who finished with a career high 183 yards and two touchdowns against Norfolk State on what was also Senior Day. “A lot of things can happen, so we just want to do our part and make sure we don’t miss a beat.”
Cartwright final score came on a brilliant eight-yard scamper in which he juked past a defender in the backfield, outraced a linebacker to the edge and then tip-toed down the left sideline to reach the end zone.
Also enjoying a big afternoon running the ball was A&T sophomore Jah-Maine Martin, who finished with 10 carries for 130 rushing yards and a touchdown.
Cartwright and Martin would make history, becoming the first Aggie running back tandem in 27 years to both rush for 100 yards in the same game.
“I was very pleased and pleasantly surprised that we rushed for over 300 yards,” said A&T head coach Sam Washington, who enjoyed his eight straight homecoming victory since arriving in Greensboro in 2011. “That was a bright spot in the ballgame.”
Despite the Aggies’ success on the ground against the Spartans, the game’s turning point actually came via a couple of special team heroics.
After Norfolk State pulled to within 21-20 early in the third quarter on a 25-yard Josh Nordone field goal, A&T speedster Malik Wilson caught the ensuing kickoff at his own one yard line, shed a tackle near midfield and then turned on the jets for 99-yard touchdown.
It was Wilson third kickoff return for a touchdown this season, tying the team record set by Justin Ferrell in 2010.
“That’s ‘Big Mo,’” said Washington afterwards. “It gives you momentum right back. The energy and everything sways our way, just turns theirs the other direction.”
Wilson’s explosive play gave the Aggies some much needed breathing room but A&T kicker Noel Ruiz pulled the extra point attempt wide left, leaving the score at just 27-20.
Ruiz would quickly redeem himself on the Aggies’ next possession, however, when he capped a 14-play drive with a clutch 42-yard field goal that split the uprights. That kick extended A&T’s lead to 30-20 with 8:46 left and effectively put the game out of reach.
For the second week in a row, however, this victory may have come at a steep cost for A&T.
Last week in A&T’s 35-10 win over Bethune-Cookman the Aggies lost star defensive back Franklin McCain for the season to an ACL injury. Against Norfolk State, senior quarterback Lamar Raynard finished with 126 yards and one touchdown, before leaving the game midway through the third quarter when his head was slammed into the turf on a third down sack.
Washington announced on Monday that Raynard was currently in the concussion protocol and his status for Saturday’s 1 p.m. match-up against Savannah State is still in doubt.
If Raynard is unable to go this weekend, A&T will turn to redshirt junior Kylil Carter who has seen action in every game this season.
Carter, who can attack an opposing defense with both his arm and legs, has passed for 290 yards this season with three touchdowns and no interceptions and has also rushed for 145 yards.
“If you stay ready, then you don’t have to get ready,” said Carter earlier this season. “That’s the mentality I keep.”