MONTGOMERY – No. 14 North Carolina A&T extended its winning to streak to 13 games with a 20-17 win over No. 6 Jacksonville State in the Guardian Credit Union Kickoff Classic at historic Cramton Bowl in Montgomery.
The Aggies, who are the defending Historic Black College and University (HBCU) national champions, is tied with UCF for the longest winning streak among FBS and FCS teams. The win was also the first win for head coach Sam Washington, who had previously served as defensive coordinator at the school.
North Carolina A&T defensive end Darryl Johnson, Jr., sealed the win when he sacked JSU quarterback Zerrick Cooper at the Aggies 23-yard line with 17 seconds left in the game. Johnson forced a fumble on the play and Antoine Wilder recovered the loose football to end the Gamecocks threat.
JSU drove from its own 20-yard line to the North Carolina A&T 17-yard line in the final 90 seconds before their fourth turnover of the night ended the game.
The Gamecocks outgained the Aggies, 403-178 in the game, but the miscues proved to be too much to overcome.
Jacksonville State fumbled four times in the game, losing three, and threw one interception. The Gamecocks were also penalized 14 times for 149 yards, including a costly penalty in the third quarter that negated an on-side kick and gave the Aggies a short field for the go-ahead score. JSU also missed two potential game-tying field goals in the fourth quarter, one of which was blocked by the Aggies.
Despite its miscues, JSU trailed only 7-3 midway through the third quarter before taking its first lead of the game. In fact, the lead changed hands four times in a four-minute stretch in the third quarter with the Aggies taking a 20-17 lead into the final quarter.
JSU took its first lead of the game when quarterback Cooper hooked up with Daniel Byrd for a 49-yard touchdown pass to give the Gamecocks a 10-7 lead with 6:13 left in the third quarter. Cooper’s first career touchdown reception capped a three-play, 75-yard drive for the Gamecocks.
The lead was short-lived as North Carolina A&T return man Malik Wilson returned the ensuing kickoff 98 yards for the go-ahead score.
JSU regained the lead on its next possession with a quick three-play, 65-yard drive capped by Cooper’s 40-yard touchdown pass to Josh Pearson, who also logged his first career TD for the Gamecocks.
Jacksonville State appeared to have recovered a successful on-side kick attempt, but an interference to field the kick penalty on the Gamecocks gave North Carolina A&T the ball on the Gamecocks 36-yard line. The Aggies needed only five plays to regain the lead as quarterback Raynard Lanier tossed a 4-yard touchdown pass to Elijah Bell to put the Aggies ahead to stay.
Jacksonville State had two turnovers and missed two field goals (one blocked) in its final six possessions of the game.
North Carolina A&T took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter when Lanier fired a 24-yard touchdown pass to Zachary Leslie.
Jacksonville State scored its only points in the first half when Cade Stinnett nailed a 23-yard field goal with 3:55 left in the first half.
Lanier only completed 11-of-34 passes for 111 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Leslie caught three passes for 43 yards and one touchdown. Jamaal Darden led the defense with 10 tackles in the win.
Cooper completed 24-of-38 passes for 320 yards with two touchdowns and one interception for the Gamecocks. Josh Pearson caught eight passes for 147 yards and one touchdown. Jalen Choice led the Gamecocks with nine tackles, including 1.5 tackles for loss.
NORTH CAROLINA A&T HEAD COACH SAM WASHINGTON:
“I thought it was a hard fought game. One of the things I must say: that is a very good football team at Jacksonville State. They’re very well coached. Coach (John) Grass and his staff does a tremendous job, not just a good job, a tremendous job preparing those kids for a ballgame. We’re just super excited that the ball happened to bounce our way a few times. Looking at these numbers, statistically you would think the win would’ve been in reverse. They passed for 323 yards. Our secondary in my opinion played awful. There’s some things that we have got to do, change and get better at. That was one of the things that really stood out. Another thing that I was disappointed with was the kicking game. We feel that if we stop the run, protect the football and win the kicking game, we have a chance to be successful. I think we kind of failed in two of those areas tonight. One of the things I’m most proud of is the way the kids persevered. They kept playing. We have a saying, ‘if something good happens, keep playing. If something bad happens, keep playing.’ Going in I thought it could possibly be a roller coaster-type ballgame and that’s exactly what it was. It swayed up and down several times. We were fortunate to get the win.”
On Jacksonville State limiting NC A&T running back Marquell Cartwright:
“They have a very stingy defense. It’s not just Cartwright. I’ve seen them do that. If you watch them on tape, they get after you. They have those two big guys inside that are very athletic and I thought the defensive ends played very well. They kept him contained, kept him bottled in. We are going to have to go back and look at some ways to attack it because I’m sure other teams are going to try some of the things they had success with. We have to get that fixed as well.”
On getting a win despite the offense finishing with 148 total yards:
“It tells a lot honestly. We don’t look to one particular area to be successful. We hang our hat on all three phases of the game. There are times when the defense is going to have to uphold the offense, and there will be situations and times where the offense is going to have to uphold the defense. There’s always times when special teams are going to have to contribute one way or the other.”
On defending Jacksonville State’s running game:
“We’re a single gap defense. We just did what we do. We’re a vertical team, single gap, everybody responsible for their gap. We use that philosophy and we just stuck with that and it seemed to have worked for us.”
On what he was thinking during the back-and-forth third quarter:
“They can’t score again. I got to the point where I said ‘listen, they can’t score again. If we’re going to win this ballgame, they cannot score again.’ We were able to turn the faucet off so to speak. However, they still had quite a few successful plays, but when we got in the red zone, we were able to get them stopped.”
On what the first win feels like:
“It’s a great feeling, I promise you that. It is a tremendous feeling. It’s a relief. We’ve been going at it since spring camp. We’ve been anxious to get out and play. It’s great to get this first one under our belt.”
On if he called anything special on the blocked field goal:
“We said ‘let’s go all out.’ We sent all 11. That’s what we did. You call that special if you want. Some people call it crazy. It happened to work. That’s one of those things that if it works, you’re a great coach. If it don’t, you know how that goes.”
JACKSONVILLE STATE HEAD COACH JOHN GRASS POST GAME QUOTES:
“We just didn’t play well enough to make it happen. We should’ve kicked the field goal to go to overtime rather than going for it at the end of the game, and that one is on me. I got a little greedy trying to win the game, but we turned it over. That’s my fault.”
“I thought our effort was really good. You have to tip your cap to North Carolina A&T. They played hard and played the game the way you’re supposed to play it. They were fundamentally sound and protected the ball, and there were times that we didn’t protect it. I’ve been saying it all summer; we knew it was a game that was going to go down to special teams and who turns it over – more or less. We turned it over the last two times we had it, and you can’t do that in those situations. We more than doubled them in total yardage, but then you go back and look at the penalties, the kicking game and turnovers. And that’s something I blame myself for, too.”
To view game stats, click here.