GREENSBORO, NC – NC A&T got 284 rushing yards and three touchdowns, two passing touchdowns from QB Jalen Fowler and two Andrew Brown field goals in grinding out a 41-27 win over SC State at the Aggies’ Truist Stadium Saturday night.
It’s the first win for the Aggies after an 0-3 start and the seventh straight win for A&T over the Bulldogs.
Sophomore running back Bhayshul Tuten knifed his way through the SC State defense for 140 yards in just 12 carries with rushing touchdowns of 19 and 38 yards. He also hauled in a 15-yard scoring reception from Fowler.
Redshirt freshman RB Wesley Graves added 72 rushing yards on 16 carries including a 12-yard TD tote. It was the first rushing touchdown of Graves’s career.
NC A&T stops the run
The Aggies ground game offset a four-TD passing performance from SC State QB Corey Fields Jr.. Fields matched his career high with the four TD passes while hitting on 26 of 49 passes for 316 yards with two interceptions.
The Bulldog run game however was non-existent. They totalled just 12 rushing yards on 22 carries.
“The fact that we were able to run the ball and they were not,” was the key to the game according to NC A&T head coach Sam Washington. “They’re a run-first team and they had 12 yards rushing. If you take away what most teams do best, it’s very difficult to be successful.”
It was the third consecutive 100-yard game for Tuten who went into the game leading the Big South in rushing at 105.0 yards per game. It was also the second game where Graves complimented Tuten’s output. The pair ran for a combined 176 yards (Tuten 133, Graves 43) in last week’s 49-20 loss at Duke.
NC A&T getting the running game going
Asked what was has been the key to getting the running game going, Washington said simply, “giving the ball to Tuten,” a response that drew a laugh from the assembled media.
“He’s just a special young guy,” Washington said of Tuten, a 5-11, 195-pound sophomore from Paulsboro, New Jersey. “He has all the tools and the desire. It’s rare to get those combinations from one player and when you do, you have something special. When I say he practices with the same effort and energy, I’m not joking. He’s got one speed and that’s wide open. That makes all of us better.”
“I think the offensive line is really jelling,” Washington added. “Those guys – it’s about eight of them – they’re very close knit, they work well together. And I think everything starts there.
“I love the job Graves has been doing,” Washington also said. “He’s that hidden gem. Tuten, you’ve got to prepare for him. And then Graves will cut your throat. We’re going to continue to use him as a weapon.”
SC State jumps up early
The Bulldogs (1-2) scored on their first possession as Fields hit wideout Ger-Kari Caldwell on a 21-yard pass down the left sideline. It completed a six-play, 60-yard drive after A&T went 3-and-out on the game’s opening possession.
The Aggies would set the tone for the night in their next possession. They drove 94 yards in nine plays, all on the ground, to score on Tuten’s 19-yard run. Brown’s PAT tied the score at 7 with 1:36 left in the opening quarter.
Fields threw his second TD pass midway thru the second quarter when he hit Jacory Bailey from 10 yards out. The key play in that drive was a 58-yard catch and run by SC State wideout Shaquan “Shaq” Davis that carried down to the A&T 8. The PAT kick was no good however leaving the Bulldogs up 13-7.
Tuten would come back to score his second TD on 15-yard pass from Fowler at the end of a 11-play, 71-yard drive. A&T took a 17-13 lead into the break when Brown connected on a 49-yard field goal as time expired.
The decisive third quarter
A&T opened the second half stopping SC State on a 3-and-out. Dyson Roberts’ 47-yard punt was returned 27 yards by A&T’s Amonte Jones to the SC State 49. A personal foul penalty on the return set the Aggies up with 1st-and-10 at the SC 38. Tuten needed just one play to reach paydirt. His scintillating run thru the Bulldog defense culminated with a flip into the end zone as he was hit in midair. Brown’s PAT put the Aggies ahead 24-13.
SC State again could not pick up a first down and punted back to the Aggies. Starting at midfield after a 7-yard Jones return, A&T needed just four plays to cover the distance. Fowler hit Ger-Kari Caldwell on a 34-yard pass to the SCSU 12. On the next play, Graves scampered in for the score to extend the lead to 31-13.
The Bulldogs would not go away, however. Davis hauled in a 33-yard scoring pass from Fields to pull the Bulldogs to within 31-20 at the 8:38 mark of the period. A&T answered as Caldwell caught a 9-yard pass from Fowler to stretch the back to 18 at 38-20.
Before the period was over, the Bulldogs again pulled within 11 at 38-27. The score came on a 5-yard pass from Fields to Corey Benson with 4:17 left in the quarter.
Aggies close in a rush
The Aggies halted two fourth-quarter SC State drives with interceptions of Fields and another two with sacks as they salted the game away.
Brown’s 48-yard field goat with 8:37 to play produced the final margin.
The first pick was by Tyquan King on a ball tipped by Jacob Roberts with 14:05 to play. On the ensuing SCSU possession, A&T’s Avarion Cole hauled in pass broken up by David Laney with 9:06 left.
Devin Harrell brought a halt the third SC State drive when he sacked Fields for a 12-yard loss at the SCSU 25 with just under six minutes left. Harrell did the honors again when he brought down Fields for -9 yards in the closing seconds.
King led the Aggies with ten stops, seven solos. SC State linebacker B. J. Davis had a game-high 17 tackles, ten solos to lead the Bulldogs.
Notes: NC A&T QB rotation
The Aggies played four quarterbacks but it was out of neccesity.
Starter Zach Yeager and back-up Eli Brickhandler both went out in the first quarter. Yeager was injured on the Aggies’ second possession. He was hit by SCSU safety Duane Nichols while sliding after a 3-yard pick up. Nichols was disqualified for targeting. Yeager entered the concussion protocol and did not return.
Eli Brickhandler went down on the ensuing Aggies possession when he was hit low.
Fowler, who started ten games last season, stepped in and led the Aggies into midway thru the fourth quarter. Redshirt freshman Alston Hooker took over from there. Fowler finished 8 of 14 for 121 yards and two TDs.
“I think this is the very first time I’ve seen it,” Washington said of playing four quarterbacks. “I’ve never witnessed four quarterbacks in a ballgame.”