Aggies Fourth-Quarter Rally Falls Short in Season Finale
Alston Hooker(Ragsdale High School) throws for 159 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
GREENSBORO – North Carolina A&T did not play certain young players on Saturday as a look toward the future. The Aggies played those players based on various circumstances. Regardless, those young players played well with the extra minutes they received against Campbell at Truist Stadium.
The young talent could not quite get the Aggies into the winner’s circle as Campbell quarterback Hajj-Malik Williams completed his first 15 passes, and the Camels scored a touchdown on each of their first four drives to defeat the Aggies 28-14 as the Aggies celebrated Senior Day before the game. But looking at the youngsters play brings some positive anticipation for the Aggies football program.
Playing young players is nothing new for the Aggies as head coach Vincent Brown builds his program. A&T has routinely started true and redshirt freshmen throughout the season. But players such as redshirt sophomore quarterback Alston Hooker and true freshman Shimique Blizzard have seen little to no action in 2023.
But that combination made what looked like a potential blowout into an exciting ending. Blizzard ran the ball well throughout the game, finishing with a season-high 79 yards on 15 carries. After an injury to starting quarterback Eli Brickhandler, Hooker entered with 12:22 remaining in the game and the Aggies trailing 28-7.
On his first pass attempt of the season, he rolled to his left and, on the run, threw a bullseye dart in the middle of receiver Amonte Jones’ chest for a 27-yard passing completion. Three plays later, on 1st-and-10 from the Campbell 36-yard line, Hooker connected with Darren Bennett on a catch-and-run that netted the Aggies 19 yards.
After a 9-yard connection with Bennett, the drive ended with Hooker finding running back Wesley Graves coming out of the backfield for a 3-yard touchdown reception. Hooker’s first career touchdown pass got the Aggies to within two touchdowns.
Campbell appeared to put the game away with a 10-play 45-yard drive that devoured more than five minutes off the clock after the Aggies were unsuccessful on an onside kick. But on a 4th-and-5 from the Aggies 11, Williams overthrew Chaney Fitzgerald in the end zone, giving the Aggies the ball back with 90 seconds remaining in the game.
Hooker and the Aggies offense clicked again. Redshirt sophomore receiver Ger-Cari Caldwell made back-to-back leaping catches, one for 18 and the other for 16. Hooker then connected with Taymon Cooke for 25 yards to move the ball to the Camels 30. After an incompletion, Hooker found Jones open down the middle of the field for an 11-yard gain to the Campbell 19.
But after Hooker went to the line to spike the ball to stop the clock. The Aggies were called for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty that pushed the ball back to the Camels 34. Pass completions to Caldwell for 19 yards and Blizzard for five gave the Aggies a manageable fourth down at 4th-and-2. But George Wilson sacked Hooker on fourth down, effectively ending the game. In relief, Hooker threw for a career-high 159 yards and a touchdown on 11-for-15 passing.
“As camp unfolded and the season unfolded, we set our depth chart, QB1, 2, 3, and 4,” Brown said. ” Obviously, you can’t practice all four quarterbacks, so Alston just ended up being the fourth option throughout the course of the season, and he’s been tremendous. He’s giving us a great look on our scout team. He’s a team-oriented player, not one selfish moment about saying, ‘I should be playing over this guy or that guy.’ He’s a constant team player. He came in and did a nice job for us today.”
True freshman Joshua Iseah, who moved from his customary defensive end position to play linebacker on Saturday because of injuries, had a game-high 13 tackles, including one for loss. In his final game at Truist Stadium, Malich Jacobs made a career-high 12 tackles.
The Aggies close out the season 1-10 overall and 0-8 in their first season in the Coastal Athletic Association (CAA) Football Conference. Brown’s first season in Aggieland was a unique one. He routinely had to play nine true freshmen and started several throughout the season, including at the quarterback position, with Kevin White making six starts. The Aggies also played four quarterbacks, struggling mightily in the passing game over the first seven contests.
“First and foremost, we’re going to evaluate every aspect of our program –from how we do things, to the coaches, how we call plays – and look at what changes need to be made for the betterment of our program,” Brown said. “Then, our focus is shifting to recruiting. If you look at our team compared to some of the teams we faced this season, we need more size on both sides of the ball, especially defensively. So, our focus is on finding some bigger-body guys up front to help us stop the run defensively.
The quarterback position is where you’re always looking to find someone who can take the reins and lead your team. If you look at the teams that are having success in the CAA, the quarterbacks are playing excellent football. They’re not just managing the game but giving their teams a chance to win. So, we’ll consistently evaluate how we can get the guys here or someone else who can give us that consistent play to help us compete on a conference and national level.”