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Morgan St. upends A&T’s win streak

By Semaj Marsh, Peacemaker Sports / September 28, 2018

Aggie senior running back Marquell Cartwright high-steps into the endzone on a 19 yard Aggie touchdown in the third quarter. Photo by Joe Daniels/Carolina Peacemaker

The game of football can be unkind, unpredictable, and at times, quite humbling.

That lesson was never more apparent than on Saturday, September 22, when the previously unbeaten North Carolina A&T Aggies saw their 15-game winning streak come to a shocking end when Morgan State’s Alex Raya nailed a 36-yard field goal as time expired, giving the Bears a 16-13 victory.

“This is the first time I came into the (locker) room defeated, and it doesn’t feel very good,” said A&T head coach Sam Washington whose team suffered its first home loss in 12 games and fell to 3-1 on the season. “Very disappointing. I was hoping that in the second half things would change. We did not grow (during the bye week). This past week we did not get better, and it showed tonight.”

Despite A&T’s attempt to ice the kicker, Raya calmly walked back on the field after the time out, measured off his steps and then drilled the ball smack dead through the center of the uprights.

It was a scenario that not many thought was possible, as the heavily-favored Aggies entered the contest ranked No. 4 in the national polls after earning high-profile wins over Jacksonville State and East Carolina, as well as a dominating 45-6 performance against Gardner-Webb two weeks ago.

This time, however, there would be no post-game fireworks to celebrate another Aggie triumph. Just a scene of stunned faces all through BB&T Stadium, as one A&T player threw his helmet far across the field while several of his teammates collapsed to the ground in disbelief.

“That surprised me,” Washington admitted afterwards. “If you told me earlier in the week that they would hold our offense to 13 points, I would have said, ‘no way.’”

The Bears’ defense surrendered just 208 yards of total offense to the Aggies, including a mere 88 yards through the air.

A&T senior quarterback Lamar Raynard struggled mightily with this timing and accuracy all night, completing only 5 of 16 pass attempts for 56 yards and two costly interceptions.

His lone touchdown came on a 23-yard play action pass to tight end Leroy Hill, which gave A&T a 6-0 lead early in the second quarter.

“He just didn’t play well,” said Washington about his team captain, was named last year’s MEAC Player of the Year. “We will get out there on the grass (this week) and see where he’s at mentally, physically and psychologically.”

Raynard was eventually replaced by backup quarterback Kylil Carter midway through the third quarter, but the Aggies’ offense was still unable to find any rhythm.

Carter finished with 32 passing yards on 6-of-14 attempts but did add scramble for 43 rushing yards.

Carter led the Aggies on a five-play, 32 yard scoring driving late in the third quarter that was set up by a blocked punt. That drive was capped by a 19-yard touchdown run by Marquell Cartwright, giving the Aggies their final lead of the night at 13-10.

However, it would prove to be short lived as Morgan State tied it on their very next possession when Raya hit a career-best 51-yard field goal.

The Aggies later embarked on a six-minute drive in the fourth quarter for a potential go-ahead score, but that possession would eventually stall out near the redzone and ended when Noel Ruiz missed a 43-yard field goal attempt with 3:19 left.

“Offensively,” Washington said, “we played terrible.”

Starting A&T wide receivers Elijah Bell and Zach Leslie finished with just three receptions between the two of them for a combined 27 yards.

A&T was just 1-of-12 on third downs and Morgan State held a 12-minute advantage in time of possession.

Almost from the opening kickoff, the Aggies appeared to suffer from an unusual lack of discipline and focus.

On the Bear’s first possession, A&T middle linebacker Kiaundric Richardson was flagged for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after a big third down stop, handing Morgan State a fresh set of downs.

That play infuriated Washington so much, he immediately took out his senior linebacker and benched him for the remainder of the game.

Without Richardson in his normal role, the Bears gradually began to find success attacking the middle of A&T defense with delayed runs by quarterback DeAndre Harris.

Harris finished with 45 yards rushing on 14 carries and added 138 yards passing. His 10 yard touchdown run in the second quarter gave the Bears their first lead of the game at 7-6.

On the Bears’ final drive, Harris completed a beautiful 34-yard pass to tight end Jack McCracken on a seam route to move the ball to the Aggies’ 40. A few plays later he completed a 13-yard pass to Deontaye White to set up Raya’s game-winning kick.

“The quarterback killed us,” Washington said. “I thought Morgan’s staff did a fantastic job preparing for us. They knew exactly how they were going to attack us. It was very subtle, but it was enough.”

Fortunately for A&T, the loss won’t impact their Celebration Bowl hopes because it doesn’t count in the MEAC standings. Due to a scheduling quirk that resulted when Hampton left the conference, this game was designated as a non-conference match-up.

However, the Aggies won’t have much time to mourn the end of their winning streak – which had been the longest in the nation – as they host South Carolina State (0-3) at BB&T Stadium on Thursday night.

That contest will be televised live on ESPNU at 7 PM and will indeed count in the MEAC standings. It could also serve as the first step in the Aggies’ road back to redemption.

“The ultimate goal is to get back to Atlanta,” said Washington. “But getting back to Atlanta depends on what we do from here. We have to be more demanding in everything we do. We have to act like, walk like and talk like a champion in everything we do from this moment on.”

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