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Morgan State ends N.C. A&T’s 15-game winning streak

Bears win on last-second field goal, but loss won’t count in MEAC standings for Aggies

Sometimes a coach’s comments leading up to a big contest feel like proverbial “coachspeak.”

At other times things happen like they did Saturday night, when the words of Morgan State interim head football coach Ernest T. Jones proved prophetic.

The Bears (1-3) ran the football aggressively, just like Jones said they would, took selective shots in the passing game, as Jones had promised, then used a 36-yard field goal from Alex Raya as time expired to achieve a 16-13 upset of No. 4 North Carolina A&T before 15,909 fans at BB&T Stadium in Greensboro. Another result Jones foresaw.

The victory ended the Aggies’ 15-game winning streak that had stretched through last season’s Celebration Bowl victory and black college national championship. The loss also ended the Aggies’ streak of 11 consecutive wins at home.

“It’s just a great start to conference play,” Jones said. “To go play the No. 1 team in the nation, a team that hadn’t lost in two years. I mean, now, we have the confidence to believe that we can beat anybody — particularly anybody in our conference.

“But we’re going to take it one game at a time. The next game is South Carolina State. We’re going to go practice, we’re going to watch film and we’re going to prepare to try to win the next game in the MEAC conference.”

The Bears and N.C. A&T are members of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC), but Saturday night’s game was designated a nonconference game because of a scheduling void created by the departure of Hampton University to the Big South Conference before the start of the season.

Morgan State outrushed the Aggies 132 to 120 yards and outgained them through the air 138 to 88 yards. That’s a battle Jones had said the Bears had to win.

“If you want to win a championship in college football, you have to run the football,” Jones said. “We’re not trying to fool you, we’re not trying to trick you. If you want to beat us, stop us from running the football.”

The game-winning kick was set up by the passing of 6-foot-4 senior quarterback DeAndre Harris, who threw for 34 yards to Jack McCracken and for 13 yards to Deontaye White to set up the Bears deep in Aggies territory.

Jones said Harris has improved because he is running plays that Harris likes as a quarterback — instead of plays liked by the coaching staff.

“He’s improved every week,” Jones said. “The last two weeks, he’s been doing what he’s comfortable doing. That’s why he’s playing better.”

Harris completed 10 of 24 passes for 134 yards, and he was sacked just once. He seemed to have uncanny accuracy when the Bears needed a big play, like on the game-winning drive.

Harris was intercepted once, of course by Aggies All-American sophomore defensive back Franklin “Mac” McCain III, which set up the first N.C. A&T score.

Harris also ran the ball 14 times for 45 net yards.

Before Raya’s game-winning kick, at 9:18 in the fourth quarter, he had tied the game at 13 with a 51-yard field goal. That kick erased a 13-10 N.C. A&T lead forged on Marquell Cartwright’s 19-yard touchdown run and Noel Ruiz’s conversion with 2:24 left in the third quarter.

Ruiz missed a 43-yard attempt at 5:59 in the fourth quarter before Raya’s dramatic game-winner.

The Aggies appeared sluggish throughout the contest, with MEAC Offensive Player of the Year Lamar Raynard off target much of the night. Raynard completed only 4 of 15 passes for 33 yards and two interceptions and was eventually replaced by backup Kylil Carter, who completed 7 of 15 passes for 55 yards and one touchdown.

Asked if his starting quarterback was injured or ailing, Aggies coach Sam Washington didn’t make any excuses.

“No, not at all,” Washington said. “He just didn’t play well.”

Asked whether the Aggies might have been affected by the layoff due to Hurricane Florence that caused the team to miss practices last week, Washington said: “It could have, but I’m going to say no.”

For the most part, Washington said the Bears did nothing that surprised the Aggies.

“They stopped us on third down; that surprised me. We were 1-for-12 on third down,” Washington said. “They beat us on first down. They held our offense to 13 points. That surprised me.”

The Aggies trailed 7-6 at halftime — the Aggies’ two-point conversion attempt failed after Carter’s 23-yard touchdown pass to Leroy Hill at 9:45 in the second quarter.

But Harris scored on a 10-yard run at 5:32 in the second quarter to give the Bears that 7-6 lead.

David Squires is an educator and digital journalist who lives in the Charlotte area and teaches journalism at N.C. A&T State University in Greensboro. He has covered HBCU sports for several decades, first with the St. Petersburg Times and later as editor-in-chief of the original BlackVoices.com and BVQ magazine. He has also worked in news and sports in New York, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Fort Worth and Hampton Roads. His passion is college basketball, and he is a die-hard Tar Heel -- born and bred.