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A&T cruises to 45-6 win over Gardner-Webb

Senior All-MEAC running back Marquell Cartwright (#22) finished the game with 15 carries for 119 yards against Gardner-Webb. Photo by Joe Daniels/Carolina Peacemaker
The A&T football team returned home last weekend as one of the hottest teams in the country, having enjoyed a pair of high-profile road victories to begin the season.

It didn’t take long for the Aggies to prove that the respect and recognition they’ve earned over these past few weeks has been completely warranted.

A lively crowd of 13,111 filled the newly-renamed BB&T Stadium for A&T’s home opener against Gardner-Webb and were treated to a postgame fireworks show, but that display paled in comparison to the sparks that took place on the field as A&T dominated in all three phases of the game and cruised to an impressive 45-6 win.

A&T junior running back Kashon Baker scores on a 78 yard punt return for the Aggies during second quarter play. Photo by Joe Daniels
“This was a good game for us tonight and I was really pleased with how we ran the ball,” said A&T head coach Sam Washington whose team improved to 3-0 on the season and has now pushed their winning streak to 15 games, currently the longest in FCS football. “We weren’t able to run the ball well in our first two games, but tonight I thought Jah-Maine (Martin) and (Marquell) Cartwright both did a good job running the ball in between the tackles and outside on the edge.”

A&T wasted little time getting on the scoreboard first, embarking on a six-play, 75-yard drive on the game’s opening possession. That series was capped by a 28-yard touchdown run by Martin, in which he exploded through a small hole at the line of scrimmage and then sprinted untouched to the end zone.

Martin, a redshirt sophomore transfer from Coastal Carolina, would later add a 42-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter and finished with a career-high 93 yards and two touchdowns on eight carries.

A&T senior running back Marquell Cartwright led all rushers with 119 yards on 15 carries.

In the second quarter, the Aggies would strike again with another big play – this time via special teams - when Kashon Baker fielded a punt at his own 22-yard line, cut back toward the sideline and then juked past several defenders, en route to a 78-yard touchdown.

Baker would also reach the end zone in the fourth quarter as a running back on a one-yard touchdown run.

“He has a will to win,” said Washington about the 5-foot-6, 163 pound junior who was named MEAC special teams’ player of the week. “That kid is willing to put in the work that it takes to be successful. Nothing was given to him; he earned his time on the field. I love working with those types of young men.”

Sophomore running back Jah-Maine Martin scores the Aggies’ first touchdown on 28-yard run against the Bulldogs. Photo by Joe Daniels/ Carolina Peacemaker
[/caption]Right before the half, sophomore kicker Noel Ruiz gave the Aggies an important momentum boost when he connected on a 43-yard field goal to make the score 17-6. It was his first made field goal of the season and the longest of his career.

After the break, the Aggies began to distance themselves from the Running Bulldogs when junior defensive end Darryl Johnson flew around the edge and hit the throwing arm of Gardner-Webb freshman quarterback Jordan Smith. That collision caused the ball to float in the air before eventually landing in the waiting hands of A&T linebacker Antoine Wilder, a transfer from the University of South Carolina.

Wilder returned the interception to Gardner-Webb’s 22-yard line and four plays later, A&T quarterback Lamar Raynard found senior fullback William Hollingsworth open in the end zone for a 5-yard touchdown pass.

Raynard would finish with 174 yards on 18 attempts and one interception.

Defensively, A&T held the Running Bulldogs to a net total of 14 rushing yards and just nine first downs.

“In the second half we made some adjustments to take away (Smith’s) first throwing options and forced him to go through his progressions,” said Washington. “That gave our defensive line some more time to get penetration and make plays.”

With the victory, A&T has now won 18 out of their last 19 at home, including 11 straight.

The Aggies opened this season with a 23-20 win over then-No. 6 ranked Jacksonville State on August 31 in the Guardian Credit Union FCS Kickoff Classic, a game that aired in primetime on ESPN.

The following week, A&T earned its third victory over an FBS team in consecutive seasons when it traveled down to Greenville and shocked East Carolina, 28-23.

This Monday, the Aggies were rewarded for their impressive start by being named the No. 4 team in the country by STATS FCS media poll, earning the highest ranking in school history.

Last week, the Aggies were ranked fifth in the polls, which matched their previous-best ranking of No. 5 in the nation in 1993.

A&T will now enjoy a much-needed bye week and get a chance to mend a number of sore bodies before hosting Morgan State on September 22. The Aggies were without three starting offensive lineman in the Gardner-Webb game.

“I think we are doing a lot of things well and too many things not so well,” said Washington. “There is still a lot of work to be done but we’re in a good place. It’s much better being 3-0 than 0-3 and we all know that.”