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N.C. A&T wakes up and beats winless S.C. State

Improved running attack and better QB play help Aggies prevail 31-16

North Carolina A&T woke up just before halftime Thursday night, scoring on a Jah-Maine Martin 40-yard touchdown and never looking back, beating South Carolina State, 31-16.

The visiting Bulldogs had taken a surprising 16-3 lead at BB&T Stadium in Greensboro, North Carolina, but couldn’t do much after the break.

But the Aggies scored 28 consecutive points on four touchdowns, including three touchdown passes by quarterback Lamar Raynard. He started the game after being pulled in the second half of last week’s unexpected loss to Morgan State. He finished with 253 yards on 19-of-27 passing with those three touchdowns.

Coming into the game, North Carolina A&T was No. 12 in the this week’s STATS FCS poll, falling from No. 4 after the loss to Morgan State.

First-year coach Sam Washington said he thought the Aggies’ improved running game helped his quarterback and got his team back on track.

“I do believe the running game opened up the passing game. There was no pressure for him to make a play,” said Washington. “And that generally makes you a little more accurate as a passer.

“It got very stressful [on the sidelines]. Once we were able to settle down and run the football, I’m telling you, that was the difference. That’s who we are.”

The first half was ugly for the Aggies, and less so for S.C. State. Both teams incurred 10 penalties each, making for very sloppy play.

“Those kinds of things put us in bad situations. We couldn’t get ourselves going in the right direction because of those kind of miscues,” said Washington.

S.C. State took advantage of a second-quarter N.C. A&T mistake on a mishandled punt by Kashon Baker that went into the end zone and was recovered by Jermaine Baxley for a 13-3 lead. A second Dillon Bredson field goal gave the visitors a 16-3 lead before Martin’s touchdown.

“Special-teams-wise we really stunk it up. We had two major mistakes. Not common and not accessible at all,” said Washington. “But that’s something that can be fixed and will be addressed immediately.”

It was the running of Marquell Cartwright and Martin that really won the game for N.C. A&T and set up Raynard’s passing. Cartwright, who gained fewer than 50 yards a week earlier against Morgan State, finished with 157 yards Thursday. Martin added 92 total yards.

“We were able to run the football. That was the difference between the first half and the second half,” said Washington. “The defense played well all day. We must learn how to put two halves together. You can get too creative sometimes. We just needed to play fundamental football.”

The defense did indeed play well, giving up fewer than 200 total yards to S.C. State and holding the Bulldogs to 3-for-14 on third-down conversions.

Cartwright, who got close to his career high of 176 yards (against Morgan State last season), Martin and the offensive line started to dominate in the second half, while Raynard played his best in the fourth quarter.

He directed an eight-play drive midway through the period that sealed the victory. He took the team 78 yards in about 3½ minutes, culminating in a 44-yard touchdown pass to Malik Wilson. To start the quarter, he hit receiver Ron Hunt for a 7-yard touchdown.

By that time it was 24-16, S.C. State couldn’t get much of a running or passing attack going.

“If you can establish the run game, then it’s going to be very tough to stop an offense,” said Cartwright. “That’s what we were expecting, to pound the ball, pound the ball.

“There was a little frustration because we didn’t come out like we were supposed to, but we fixed that real fast. Once we fixed that, it was on.”

The best player on the field for S.C. State was quarterback Tyrece Nick, who rushed for 89 yards and passed for only 90 yards. Running back Farrika Grier scored the Bulldogs’ only touchdown.

For N.C. A&T, Delaware State is next up. For the winless Bulldogs (0-4), they will face Morgan State. Both games are Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference contests.

Despite the rain and the fact that it was a Thursday night contest, more than 11,000 watched the Aggies rebound and the Blue & Gold Marching Machine, the No. 4 band in the ESPN/The Undefeated HBCU Band Rankings, entertain at halftime and during the 5th Quarter after the game.

John X. Miller is the senior HBCU editor for Andscape. He's a father, jazz aficionado and die-hard UNC basketball fan.