EAST GREENSBORO – North Carolina A&T lost a 16-13 football game to Morgan State Saturday night at BB&T Stadium thanks to a 36-yard field goal by MSU’s Alex Raya as time expired.
There are some realities that go along with that reality. The Aggies lost their first football game in 665 days.
Their ownership of the longest current winning streak in the nation (Division I-FCS) has ended at 15. N.C. A&T’s 11-game home winning streak also disappeared. Lamar Raynard is now 29-1 as N.C. A&T’s starting quarterback. The Aggies streak of 39 straight games without blowing a fourth-quarter lead also ended. The last time the Aggies blew a fourth-quarter lead was to MSU on Nov. 9, 2013. N.C. A&T’s No. 4 national ranking is also gone and depending on the mood of the voters, their top-10 national ranking may also be history. Their streak as the No. 1 black college football is also likely gone.
But here are a few more realities.
Hampton is no longer in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. This fact left some MEAC teams with seven conference games because Hampton occupied their respective schedules before leaving for the Big South. Therefore, the conference to designate some games as non-conference contests to ensure each team plays seven conference games. N.C. A&T and Morgan State knew coming into the season that their game would be one of those non-conference games between two conference schools.
So, the reality is, the Aggies can still finish undefeated in the MEAC and they are very much in contention for another Celebration Bowl bid at Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
“The ultimate goal is to get back to Atlanta,” said N.C. A&T head coach Sam Washington who missed his opportunity to stand alone with the best start of any first-year coach in N.C. A&T history. Instead, both he and Hornsby Howell share their honor at 3-0.
“But getting back to Atlanta depends on what we do from here,” Washington continued. “We have to be more demanding in everything we do. We have to act like, walk like and talk like a champion in everything we do from this moment on.”
Morgan State (1-3) came right after the defending MEAC and HBCU national champions on Saturday. They kept the Aggies (3-1) offense stymied and they ran the ball effectively against an Aggies team who has led the MEAC in rushing defense six out of the last seven years. N.C. A&T was just 1-for-12 on third downs.
Even though the Aggies offense had its troubles, the Bears were not having much success against the Aggies ‘D’. That is why when fifth-year running back Marquell Cartwright scored on a 19-yard run to give the Aggies a 13-10 lead with 2:24 in the third quarter, it looked like the Aggies may weather the storm thanks to their impressive defense.
Raya stepped into assists against the Aggies defensive resistance to being upset. Raya booted a career-high 51-yard field goal to tie the game at 13 with 9:18 to play. The Aggies got the ball back and backup quarterback Kylil Carter drove the Aggies 14 plays down the field including a pass interference call on 3rd-and-19 that gave the Aggies a 1st-and-10 at the MSU 24-yard line.
A false start and two incompletions led to the Aggies having to set up for a 43-yard field goal. Sophomore kicker Noel Ruiz connected on a career-high 43-yard field goal two weeks ago against Gardner-Webb. But his 43-yard attempt on Saturday sailed wide right giving the Bears the ball back.
On the first play of the drive, MSU quarterback DeAndre Harris threw it deep to Jack McCracken for a 34-yard completion to the Aggies 40. A 13-yard completion to Deontaye White led to Raya’s game-winner.
“I thought Morgan and their staff did a fantastic job preparing for us,” said Washington who saw the Aggies lose for the first time since a 39-10 loss to Richmond on Nov. 26, 2016. “They knew exactly how they were going to attack us. It was very subtle, but it was enough. The quarterback killed us, and they held our offense to 13 points. That surprised me. If you told me early in the week they would hold our offense to 13 points, I would have said, ‘no way.’”
MSU did hold the Aggies to 208 yards of total offense. It was the Aggies lowest output since gaining 145 yards against S.C. State on Nov. 7, 2015. The Aggies did get on the board first in the second quarter as a Mac McCain III interception at the MSU 29 led to Raynard connecting with senior tight end Leroy Hill for a 23-yard touchdown pass.
The Aggies tried to surprise the Bears by going for the 2-point conversion as Raynard’s pass did not connect with Darryl Johnson, Jr., who normally plays defensive end for the Aggies. The missed point would loom large later. MSU answered quickly with a 10-yard touchdown as they headed into the locker room ahead 7-6. Raya opened the second half with the first of his three second-half field goals, a 40-yarder to give the Bears a 10-6 lead.
N.C. A&T will have to get right back to work as they face S.C. State, 7 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 27 at BB&T Stadium. The game will be aired live on ESPNU.
“All we can do is get to back to work and correct what we need to correct,” said Washington.