EAST GREENSBORO – North Carolina A&T finally reaped the benefits of its steady improvement over the season’s first three weeks.
The A&T football team secured its win of 2022 by beating longtime HBCU rival and defending HBCU national champion South Carolina State University (SCSU), 41-27, inside Truist Stadium on Saturday night.
The Aggies (1-3) relied heavily on their running game and sophomore tailback Bhayshul Tuten. Tuten had 140 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries and has a combined 400 yards rushing over the past three games. He added two receptions for 32 yards and another score through the air.
“His importance grows weekly,” said A&T coach Sam Washington of his star running back. “He’s just a special young guy with all the tools and the desire. It is rare to get those combinations from one player. When you do, you have something special. When I say he practices with the same effort and the same energy, I’m not joking. He has one speed, and that’s wide open. I think that makes all of us better.”
The Aggies ran for a season-high 284 yards as freshman Wesley Graves added 72 yards and a TD on 16 carries. Meanwhile, the Aggies held the Bulldogs to 12 yards rushing, forcing the Bulldogs into 49 pass attempts.
“The key was that we were able to run the football; they were not. They are a run-first team; according to this paper, they had 12 yards rushing. That’s a big part of it. If you take away what most teams do best, it is very difficult to be successful.”
SCSU scored on its first drive, going 50 yards in six plays on a drive that culminated in a 21-yard touchdown pass from Corey Fields, Jr. to Rakim White.
A couple of injuries led the Aggies to play four different quarterbacks, starting with freshman Zachary Yeager who left the game early, never to return. Freshman Eli Brickhandler also played before graduate QB Jalen Fowler stepped in and helped the Aggies find their footing offensively.
The veteran led a nine-play, 94-yard march down the field that Tuten put an exclamation mark on with a 19-yard scamper to the end zone to tie the game at 7. Tuten had 56 rushing yards on that scoring drive alone.
SCSU reclaimed the lead in the second quarter when Fields, Jr. found Richard Bailey on a 10-yard touchdown throw with just over seven minutes remaining in the half. SCSU would have the extra point blocked, a sign of things to come with both teams struggling on special teams throughout the game.
Once Just like the first time, the Aggies had a response on their next offensive possession. Tuten caught a shuffle pass from Fowler and scampered in for a 15-yard catch and run where he juked out the nearest Bulldog defender before front flipping over a couple more into the end zone, giving the Aggies the 14-13 lead.
Fowler would finish the game 8-of-14 for 121 yards and two scores.
The ensuing kickoff was fumbled by White, who could barely get it out of the end zone to avoid the safety. With the ball on the SCSU 6-yard line and three timeouts in their pocket, the Aggie defense made a stand with mere seconds remaining to give themselves an opportunity before the half.
Freshman Amonte Jones returned the Bulldog punt 11 yards to the SCSU 32 to set up Andrew Brown for a 49-yard field goal which he put directly through the uprights. It is the third time Brown has tied his career-long kick.
“Whenever you can go in with points placed on the board, that’s huge,” said Washington. “It’s called big momentum, and it’s taking that energy into the locker room knowing that we will receive the ball when we come out. That’s exactly what it is.”
That defensive dominance transitioned into the second half.
The Blue and Gold forced a three-and-out before Tuten took his first touch of the second half to the house on a 38-yard touchdown run.
The defense was very opportunistic in the final two periods, forcing two costly SCSU turnovers to allow A&T a chance to increase their lead.
With the score 38-27 and SCSU attempting to mount a comeback, sophomore linebacker Tyquan King found himself in the right place underneath a tipped pass from Fields, Jr., intercepting the ball and giving the Aggies possession again.
On the next Bulldog drive, redshirt freshman Avarion Cole jumped in the passing lane, intercepting Fields, Jr. Any chance the Bulldogs had at a comeback, the Aggie defense stifled.
A&T, who has the No. 1 defense in the Big South Conference, held the Bulldogs to 328 yards of offense. Meanwhile, A&T went 4-for-4, all touchdown scores, on their red zone opportunities and controlled the clock for 34:30.
“One week at a time,” said Washington about the Aggies victory. “One game at a time. We cannot get ahead of ourselves; we must take it one game at a time. We have to make sure we’re getting better as a team, and we have to be able to see the growth. We have some young guys that are developing. It’s not at the pace we would like; however, they are developing. We have to make sure we continue to do that.”
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