North Carolina A&T scored 22 consecutive points to grab the lead and then held onto a 2-point advantage late, after a Bulldogs rally, to top South Carolina State 22-20 in Orangeburg on Saturday in a battle of Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference frontrunners.
The Aggies (6-2 overall, 4-1 in MEAC) got 340 yards of total offense from graduate student quarterback Kylil Carter to hand the Bulldogs (5-3 overall, 3-2 in MEAC) their second loss in conference play. Senior wide receiver Elijah Bell had 11 receptions for 107 yards to pace the Aggies on offense in the Battle of the Border for the teams from neighboring Carolinas.
SC State had a drive to possibly regain the lead for the first time in the second half in the final 3 minutes of play, but were stopped before making a first down to continue the series.
"We lost the football game, even thought we thought we had a chance to win it, but we didn't make enough plays," SC State head coach Buddy Pough said. "We had opportunities early, but as the game went on, we made some mistakes.
"We stopped them in the second half, not giving up a touchdown, but giving up a few field goals. That was a tribute to our defense. But, at the same time, we didn't do enough offensively at that time to cut into the deficit enough. We weren't quite man enough to make this happen against that good of a football team. They got after us, and I've got to give A&T credit for that."
Redshirt freshman Corey Fields led the Bulldogs on offense, passing for 284 yards on 14 for 30 passing with a touchdown and an interception. Fields connected with senior wide receiver Demontrez Burroughs on 8 passes for 168 yards and a touchdown.
Thanks to his recent strong play, Fields will be the starting quarterback next Saturday at home against Howard, according to Pough.
SC State will play host to the Bison (1-8 record, 1-4 in MEAC) in a 1:30 p.m. kickoff. It will be Senior Day, the final home game of the season for the Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs scored first against the Aggies, getting a field goal and a touchdown to take a 10-0 lead early in the second quarter.
Fields and redshirt junior Tyrece Nick took turns playing quarterback on the opening drive of the game, as the Bulldogs marched 62 yards in 9 plays to set up a 23-yard field goal by Dillon Bredesen with 10:43 left in the first quarter.
The 3-0 lead lasted into the second quarter, as Carter fumbled away a snap by the Aggies and the Bulldogs recovered the ball at SC State's own 32-yard line. From there, it took 7 plays for the home team to cover 68 yards and finish the drive with a 2-yard scoring run by Labron Morris on an off-tackle carry. Bredesen's PAT made it 10-0 with 10:01 left in the second quarter.
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From there, the Aggies started their scoring, and it was started by their defensive personnel. In the final 6 minutes of the first half, NC A&T scored 16 unanswered points.
With 5:32 left before the half, on a 3rd-and-17 play from the Bulldogs' own 3-yard line, Nick was sacked in the end zone for a safety by linebacker Kyin Howard. The score was 10-2, for a little while.
SC State kicked to the Aggies after the safety. The visitors welcomed the hospitality by taking just 4 plays to cover 43 yards, as former Coastal Carolina tailback Jah-Maine Martin carried the ball in from 5 yards out for a touchdown with 3:42 left till the half. Noel Ruiz added the PAT for a 10-9 score, giving the Aggies their first lead of the day.
A 3-and-out forced the Bulldogs to punt. NC A&T then marched 70 yards on 8 plays to finish with a Carter pass for 4 yards to Korey Banks for a touchdown with 29 seconds left in the half. Ruiz added the PAT for a 16-10 lead at the break.
The scoring streak continued for the Aggies on the opening drive of the third quarter, with a great return by Taymon Cooke to the NC A&T' 45-yard line setting up 7-play drive that covered 49 yards and finished with a 23-yard field goal by Ruiz. The Aggies led 19-10 with 12:29 left in the third quarter.
Ruiz was the only player to score points in the third quarter, as he added a 22-yard field goal with :07 left in the period to finish off a 17-play drive that covered 75 yards and used up 7:54 on the game clock. The boot gave the visitors a 22-10 lead and gave Ruiz the Aggies' record with 16 made field goals in a season.
On the following drive, SC State marched 65 yards in 6 plays and reached the end zone when Fields connected with Burroughs over the top of the Aggies' defense for a 49-yard scoring strike. Bredesen's PAT made it a 22-17 game, in favor of the visitor's with 14:24 left to play.
The Bulldogs made a defensive stop on the ensuing series, forcing NC A&T to punt after a 3-and-out. SC State took advantage of getting the ball back so soon, covering 59 yards in 5 plays, putting the final points on the scoreboard with a 28-yard field goal by Bredesen with 11:18 left to play.
Chad Gilchrist helped force another 3-and-out for the Aggies on the following series, as he sacked Carter on third down, getting the ball back for the Bulldogs.
The following drive reached the 39-yard line of the Aggies. But a pass by Fields overshot Burroughs and was intercepted by cornerback Amir McNeill.
The Bulldogs got the ball back after forcing another punt, but never moved the offense past their own 16-yard line before having to punt with 3 minutes left to play.
Gilchrist led the Bulldogs on defense, with 8 tackles, including 2 tackles for loss, while Jalen Barr added 7 tackles and both Decobie Durant and Duane Nichols each added 6 tackles. Kyin Howard had 8 tackles, including a tackle for a loss, to lead the Aggies.
"I hope that we can learn from our mistakes in this particular situation," Pough said. "Whether we are mature enough, grown enough, to actually take the information that we gather from this game to be better next time, who knows. We will see.
"Nobody wants to take these losses without a benefit of some sort. To have been back in it in the conference the way we were, to have won the game we won last week, I feel like we just threw it away today. But, they (NC A&T) played well enough to win it too."