The South Carolina State Bulldogs football team tasted defeat for a second straight Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference contest on Saturday.
North Carolina A&T visited Oliver C. Dawson Stadium and left with a 21-7 win on Willie E. Jeffries Field, after holding the home team to just 82 yards rushing and 279 yards of total offense.
The Aggies moved to 5-0 overall, 2-0 in MEAC play, while the Bulldogs fell to 1-3 overall, 0-2 in MEAC play.
“I think we got beat pretty good in most of the phases of the game,” Bulldogs head coach Buddy Pough said. “I guess we played just good enough to hang around for a while; but we didn’t ever show enough to actually get enough done to win the football game.
“It’s disappointing that they can come in here and handle us the way that they did. We had our opportunities and didn’t take advantage of them. Too many mistakes, too many turnovers, just too many situations where we weren’t quite good enough.”
The Bulldogs lost all three fumbles they coughed up and matched N.C. A&T with each team throwing an interception. The S.C. State defense was left in a tough position, as it tried to contain Aggies redshirt junior quarterback Lamar Raynard.
Raynard took advantage of his offense having possession of the ball for more than 37 minutes, passing 18-for-31 for 298 yards, 2 touchdowns and an interception. N.C. A&T redshirt junior tailback Marquell Cartwright led all rushers with 102 yards on 24 carries, balancing out the attack for the visitors.
“We didn’t feel comfortable overloading the rush, since their big receivers are possession guys who are pretty quick,” Pough said. “Rather than put our defensive secondary, which is the youth of the whole operation, under more pressure than they could handle, we decided to use some coverage to do some things and try to keep them in front of us.”
The Bulldogs were led in both rushing and passing by redshirt sophomore quarterback Dewann Ford, Jr., who carried the ball 13 times for 52 yards and passed 13-for-30 for 197 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
Things got off to a rocky start for the Bulldogs, who forced the Aggies to punt after their opening drive. Punt returner Tra’Quan Dubose brought the kick back near midfield, but fumbled the ball back to the Aggies before the Bulldogs could start on offense.
N.C. A&T opened the scoring with a 36-yard field goal by Noel Ruiz the 12:20 mark of the second quarter.
The Aggies added to that lead with a 14-yard scoring pass from Raynard to Malik Wilson at the 7:12 mark of the second quarter. Ruiz’ kick was off the mark, for a 9-0 lead.
Ford tried to get the Bulldogs moving on offense on the ensuing drive. But he had the ball knocked away from him by Jeremy Taylor, recovered by Darryl Johnson for the visitors. Eight plays later, Ruiz banked in a 41-yard field goal for a 12-0 lead with 59 seconds left in the half.
The Aggies scored again on their third possession of the third quarter, when Raynard connected with Xavier Griffin for a 71-yard scoring pass play with 3:45 left in the third quarter. The Bulldogs denied the conversion run, leaving the score 18-0.
S.C. State scored on its first series of the fourth quarter, when Ford connected with Trey Samuels along the Bulldogs’ sideline for a 33-yard touchdown with 12:06 left to play. Tyler Scandrett added the PAT for an 18-7 score.
Due to penalties, N.C. A&T got two attempts at scoring in the red zone late, despite Ruiz missing a field goal attempt. He made up for the miss with a 27-yard kick at the 3:59 mark, for the 21-7 final.
“We did score, but we aren’t into getting into the end zone and moral victories; we’re into winning football games,” Pough said. “We showed some signs of being able to create some offensive opportunities.
“But, we’re just not consistent enough offensively. We’ll do a few good things and then come back with a lost yardage play or give up a sack or have a turnover.”
Redshirt senior linebacker Darius Leonard led the Bulldogs with a game-high 9 tackles, including 8 unassisted stops. Fellow redshirt senior linebacker Dayshawn Taylor added 7 tackles, all solo stops.
Graduate student and starting free safety Jason Baxter ended a Raynard’ streak of 159 pass attempts without an interception when Baxter picked off a pass early in the third quarter. Unfortunately for the home team, the following series resulted in a 3-and-out with a punt. A second big play for the Bulldogs later in the quarter, when freshman Shaheem Haltiwanger blocked and recovered a N.C. A&T punt attempt, resulted in the Bulldogs’ offense fumbling and losing the ball back to the Aggies.
S.C. State will play again on Friday, Oct. 6, at home at 7:30 p.m. against MEAC opponent Morgan State.
“We are 1-3 and that’s a steep hill to climb the rest of the way to have a winning record,” Pough said. “But I’ve got faith in our guys. These guys will continue to fight and we will be all right.
“We’ve just got to help them figure out how to do a couple things better.”