EAST GREENSBORO – North Carolina A&T responded the way a champion should respond. The two-time defending Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) and HBCU national champions bounced back from a humiliating loss last week at Morgan State to dominate one of the best teams in the MEAC in Bethune-Cookman with a 47-17 win at BB&T Stadium on a Saturday afternoon filled with a brisk and chilly wind.
The Aggies (7-3, 5-2 MEAC) avoided losing back-to-back conference games for the first time since 2013 by simply running the football. N.C. A&T ran 63 plays on Saturday. Fifty of their plays were runs as they compiled 300 yards on the ground led by junior running back Jah-Maine Martin who finished with 120 yards and three touchdowns on 19 carries.
Martin’s third touchdown on the day, a 7-yard romp up through the middle of the Wildcats defense earned him N.C. A&T’s single-season rushing touchdowns record. It was his 19th rushing touchdown of the season breaking Tarik Cohen’s record of 18. Martin’s 19th touchdown also tied Cohen for the school’s single-season record in total touchdowns.
“It’s a great feeling but I’m still not satisfied,” Martin said about breaking the record. “That’s not enough for me. I set my expectations high. We’re going to celebrate tonight, but tomorrow we’re back to work.”
There is plenty of work for the Aggies to do. The win pushes them closer to another Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl berth, their fourth in five years and their third straight overall. But there is still one regular-season game to play and that is against archrival N.C. Central 1 p.m., Saturday, November 23 at BB&T Stadium.
If the Aggies win, they’re in. But the Eagles will not make that an easy task.
“In any ballgame, you’re going to need determination and effort to win it,” said N.C. A&T coach Sam Washington. “We’re going to need everyone’s very best for that ballgame. That’s the way we will approach it and that’s the way we will go about it. This is a team game. We’re all one team. We’re all in.”
N.C. A&T was certainly all in from the beginning on Saturday against Bethune-Cookman (6-4, 4-3 MEAC). A big-time Martin run and two fourth-down conversions helped the Aggies take a 20-0 lead early.
After Martin’s 66-yard TD run, his eighth run of 50 yards or more this season, gave the Aggies a 7-0 lead, they faced a 4th-and-1 from the B-CU 4-yard line. The Aggies turned to Martin who picked up the yard to keep the drive going. On the next play, Martin ran in from four yards out to increase N.C. A&T’s lead to 14-0.
“I describe myself as a ‘whatever we need done’ type of back,’” said Martin. “If we need some speed, then I’m going to run fast. If we need some power, then I’m going to hit the gap. I go off what the play call is.”
The Aggies next fourth-down conversion also called for power. On 4th-and-1 from the B-CU 6, the Aggies turned to 5-foot-11, 289-pound fullback William Simpson to get the yard. Simpson got all six and scored his first career touchdown as the Aggies went ahead by 20.
B-CU scored the next 10 points to go into the locker room down 20-10 at halftime.
N.C. A&T, who has had one of the best defenses in the nation over the past nine seasons, showed why in the second half. The Aggies held B-CU to just 13 yards of offense in the third quarter. With the Wildcats offense stymied, the Aggies turned to backup quarterback Jalen Fowler with 5:18 remaining in the third quarter.
On his second play from scrimmage, Fowler faked a toss sweep to senior running back Kashon Baker before tossing a pass to him out in the flats. Baker did the rest scoring on a 36-yard touchdown reception to put the Aggies ahead 26-10. Fowler would also throw a 22-yard touchdown pass to senior Elijah Bell for another score. It was Bell’s 29th career touchdown reception.
Fowler finished his day 5-for-6 for 105 yards and two touchdowns.
“As the second-string quarterback you always have to be ready,” said Fowler. “Kylil could get hurt on the first play, so it’s my job to be ready. I feel like throughout the season I have gotten better at that, being ready. You never know when your name is going to be called.”
Baker also scored a rushing touchdown and finished with 112 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns on 14 touches. The Aggies contained elusive B-CU quarterback Akevious Williams holding him to 45 yards rushing on 13 carries.
Now it is on to the next challenge for the Aggies as they face their chief rival and look to meet it head-on like champions.