North Carolina A&T, No.1 in the Black College polls and No. 9 in the FCS rankings, wrapped up the first unbeaten season in school history and its first outright MEAC championship since 2003 with a 24-10 C home victory against arch-rival North Carolina Central.
“Being 11-0 is special,” said North Carolina A&T coach Rod Broadway. “It was a good win and a good competitive football game. It was a very physical football game.”
Getting to 11-0 against the Eagles (7-4, 5-3 MEAC), made the win even more satisfying for the Aggies since it came against their biggest rival and a team that had beaten them three straight years and cost them three outright conference titles, a playoff berth in 2014 and a Celebration Bowl bid and an undefeated MEAC season in 2016.
“It is joy and relief,” said rover back Jeremy Taylor, one of 19 seniors for North Carolina A&T. “They have beaten us three years back-to-back-to-back, so finally for us to come out on top on our last go around, feels great. That’s the joy. After three years, there’s a new sheriff in town.”
North Carolina A&T can become the first MEAC team to complete a season unbeaten since the conference was formed in 1971 with a victory against the SWAC champion in the Celebration Bowl in Atlanta on Dec. 16.
The Aggies’ 11th victory was a hard-fought one as neither team asked no quarter and gave none, which is not uncommon in a rivalry of this magnitude. They combined for 27 penalties for 217 yards, a total of 16 unsportsmanlike conduct infractions, two face masks calls and one roughing the passer penalty
“I thought it got to be a dumb football game at times,’’ Broadway said. “That was so unlike us to commit that many penalties.’’
Senior running back Jamari Smith, a graduate from the University of South Carolina and a newcomer to the Aggie-Eagle rivalry, was the catalyst for North Carolina A&T. Smith rushed for 28 yards and he had a 20-yard pass reception on the Aggies’ first scoring drive, which ended with Elijah Bell’s 13-yard leaping touchdown catch. The score was Bell’s 11th career touchdown reception and broke the school record set by Craig Thompson in 1991 and tied by Denzel Keyes last season.
Smith finished the game with 99 rushing yards on 14 carries as the Aggies ran the ball for 205 yards in the contest.
West Georgia 35 Virginia State 9 – The Wolves, the No. 7 seed in Super Region 2, throttled the second-seeded Trojans’ high-scoring offense en route to a road victory in the opening round of the Division II playoffs. It was the first loss of the season for Virginia State (10-1), champion of the CIAA. The Trojans entered the game averaging 43 points and more than 250 rushing yards a game.
West Georgia (9-3), which finished in a five-way tie for second place in the Gulf South Conference, held them to just 70 yards on the ground and 277 yards total offense. Running back Trenton Cannon, the 2017 CIAA Offensive Player after rushing for more than 1,600 yards, was held to 65 yards. West Georgia compiled 418 total yards, including 180 on the ground. Running back Devontae Jackson, the Gulf South Conference Player of the Year, gained 127 yards on 30 carries.
Delta State 45, Bowie State 35 – The Statesmen went on the road and outgunned the explosive Bulldogs for a first-round Division II victory. The contest was a battle of Delta State’s running game vs. Bowie State’s passing attack. Quarterback Amir Hall completed 34 of 60 pass attempts for 332 yards and two touchdowns for Bowie State (9-2). But Hall’s passing couldn’t keep pace with Statesmen’s ground game that produced 336 yards.
Breck Ruddick ran the ball 11 times for 164 yards and two touchdowns, Chris Robinson gained 144 yards on 31 carries and he scored three touchdowns for the Statesmen (9-3). Delta State, one of five teams that tied for second place in the Gulf South Conference, led 31-7 in the first half. However the Bowie State (9-2), runner-up to Virginia State in the CIAA Northern Division championship race, scored 28 points in the third quarter to take a 35-31 lead. Robinson scored on pair of three yard runs in the fourth quarter, the last coming with 1:57 left to play, to seal the victory for Delta State.
Hampton 20, Howard 17 – The Pirates said goodbye to the MEAC with a home win against their arch-rivals. Hampton announced Thursday that it will leave the MEAC after 22 years, effective July 1, 2018. Hampton won five MEAC championships and made five appearances in the FCS playoffs after joining the conference in 1995. The Pirates’ last conference title and playoff appearance came in 2006.
Other Big South Conference members are Liberty, Longwood, Radford, Charleston Southern, Presbyterian College, University of South Carolina Upstate, Winthrop, Campbell, Gardner-Webb, High Point, and UNC Asheville. Kennesaw State and Monmouth are associate members. Yahkee Johnson ran for 144 yards and two touchdowns for Hampton (6-5, 5-3 MEAC). Quarterback Caylin Newton passed for 259 yards for Howard (7-4, 6-2 MEAC), but he also threw two interceptions, the second of which came in the final minute and denied the Bison an opportunity to send the game into overtime or win it.
Jackson State 7, Alcorn State 3 – It was a sweet ending to a bitterly disappointing season for the Tigers as they defeated the arch-rival Braves, the SWAC East Division champions for the fourth straight year, in the Capital City Classic. The victory was the third in the last four games for Jackson State (3-8, 3-5 SWAC) and gives the Tigers a repeat of their 2016 record. Alcorn (7-4, 6-2 SWAC) will play the winner of the Grambling State vs. Southern Bayou Classic matchup in the SWAC Championship Game in Houston on Dec. 2.
The Braves may have been guilty of looking ahead to Houston rather than focusing on Jackson State. They gained 339 total yards, bur were unable to convert their yardage into points. They drove 83 yards on their first possession before settling for a 19-yard filed goal by Corey McCullough for their only points. Terrell Kennedy’s 69-yard touchdown run for Jackson State in the second quarter produced the points for Jackson State. Jackson State ended the game with 250 yards total offense, and the only time the Tigers crossed Alcorn’s 30 yard line was on Kennedy’s run.
Bethune-Cookman 29, Florida A&M 24
Florida State 77, Delaware State 6
Norfolk State 45, Morgan State 32
Savannah State 34, South Carolina State 10
Alabama State 16, Mississippi Valley State 10
Jackson State 7, Alcorn State 3
Prairie View A&M 42, Incarnate Word 28
Jacksonville State 36, Tennessee State 6
Northwestern (Iowa) 55, Langston 7
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