Aggies Sink Pirates in MEAC Opener
N.C. A&T 31, Hampton University 9
(Courtesy of Matt Johnson with GreensboroSports.com)
The North Carolina A&T Aggies (3-1, 1-0) entered Thursday night’s action with the Hampton University Pirates (1-3, 1-1) ranked 22nd in the FCS standings, fresh off a bye week, and with a healthy Tarik Cohen. Although the Aggies’ offense had been electric the first three games of the season thriving on the big play, it was the defense that took a bend but don’t break mantra and dominated the contest.
The Aggies set the tone on defense early on, stopping Hampton on their first two drives on offense by holding the Pirate offense on a fourth down backed up in their own redzone forcing a turnover on downs, and blocking a 24-yard field goal attempt.
A&T came out flying on their opening drive of the evening, looking like the offense that averaged over 30 points per game over the first three games of the season. Following a first down, the Aggies were forced to punt. A Steven Sawicki boomed a punt inside the 20 yard line of Hampton, but a botched fair catch set up the Aggies with prime field position at the three. Quarterback Lamar Raynard would find Denzel Keyes for a three yard touchdown for the games first score.
The Aggies’ second scoring drive was delayed with two play reviews and a fumble on a targeting call. A Khris Gardin catch over the middle, and a forced fumble by the Hampton defender appeared to give momentum back to the Pirates. However, after a long review and Gardin being helped off the field by the HU training staff, the possession stayed with N.C. A&T and led to a Cody Jones 32 yard field goal making the game 10-0 mid way through the second quarter.
Running back Tarik Cohen had a breakout performance in his first conference action of the season. While Linebacker Jeremy Taylor and the defense did their part allowing just three points, and adding four takeaways including an interception by Taylor for the third straight game, it was Cohen in the second half that shined the brightest in the spotlight.
With A&T up 10-3 and backed up at their own seven yard-line, Cohen converted a third and short with a 39-yard run. After Cohen put the Aggies in great field position, a pass interference call on a deep pass from Raynard to freshman wide receiver Elijah Bell moved A&T to the HU 15-yard line, which was all Cohen would need who punched it in from 15 yards out giving him his 42nd career touchdown, setting the Aggies all-time mark.
One play following a Hampton turnover on downs to start the fourth quarter, Cohen scored from 30 yards out for his second touchdown of the evening and giving him his 23rd 100 yard game of his Aggie career. Late in the fourth, Cohen added his third touchdown of the contest, racing 94 yards behind the left side of his offensive line to put a bow on it for A&T. Cohen finished with 256 yards on 26 carries with three touchdowns. The versatile and shifty runner Cohen also added 3 receptions for 8 yards out of the backfield.