A&T vs. NCCU: Still Special After all These Years

By Craig R. Turner
Published: November 22, 2013

For the 85th time in the history of the two of largest and most storied HBCUs in the State of North Carolina, the time for one special fall afternoon on the gridiron has come around again. The annual football meeting between North A&T and North Carolina Central remains the center point for thousands of fans and alumni across the state as the ultimate game.

It still eclipses homecomings, season openers, out of league foes, conference confrontations, and even championship games if neither one is participating. Case in point being, that despite the enviable success of nearby Winston Salem State who will be beginning its third consecutive playoff run in Division II and national rankings this weekend at home at Bowman Gray Stadium, the Aggie-Eagle game attendance will undoubtedly dwarf that of whatever the crowd will muster against Slippery Rock.

The fan bases of these two schools may be somewhat indifferent when it comes to turning out for lesser-known opponents. However when it’s A&T/Central week, folks all up and down the eastern seaboard will circle the date for that game above all others and clear that one particular Saturday to see those two intense rivals go at each other no matter their records.

The pageantry of bands, the cheerleaders, the alums and fans decked out in their maze of blue and Gold and Maroon and Gray – it’s a football fan’s ultimate high. The game in recent years has been extremely tense and close with last year’s game going into overtime before the Aggies won in overtime in Durham. There is no inclination not to think that this year’s renewal will not live up to that same kind of dramatic ending.

Things changed and even evolved over the 40 plus years I have been attending these matchups. The Rivalry has moved from one from pure hatred to a begrudging respect between the fans of both schools. Long ago the fans would not say a word to one another or even acknowledge each other’s presence despite stadiums filled to capacity and there always some sort of hot headiness that reared its ugly head even into modern day era even though it’s been decades since any serious confrontation.

If you go to the game this Saturday, there will not be any shortage of intermingling of both schools’ colors in the tailgate areas adjacent to Aggie Stadium. The laughing, the joking, the friendly little digs and good natured barbs back and forth one will hear will be far cry from the days of eyeballing and hurling of insults that older alumni can attest existed in its worst form back in the 80’s and 90’s.

Central and A&T fans have both matured over the years and hopefully it will continue on Saturday if for no other reason to prove a point in the wake of the CIAA debacle of last weekend that occurred in Winston Salem.

That despicable incident resulted in criminal charges being brought forward, an arrest being made, and now legal threats and actions being initiated between two CIAA institutions. All of that resulted in one team losing its high seed and another being outright banned from postseason play, all of which took place without a single down of football being involved.

Ideally, I expect an atmosphere that the trash talking is limited or completely left at the door and the teams and bands come to compete on the football field and not in the stands, the parking lots, or the streets. One reason I am confident of that outcome are that the two chancellors are both from the camp of zero tolerance for shenanigans.

I cannot envision either Dr. Harold Martin or Dr. Debra Saunders-White, under any circumstances, behaving or making off the cuff public statements and accusations like Donald Reaves (WSSU) or Keith Miller (Virginia State) have done over this last week, posturing in front of TV cameras and newspaper reporters, insulting each other and the institutions they have been entrusted to lead.

No university is perfect but there is certain degree of both common sense and decorum that has been demonstrated and is clearly more definable at both A&T and NCCU when problems have arisen and that is where the rubber meets the road if you want to talk about “institutional control.”

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Saturday marks the end of the college careers of 15 seniors at A&T who have experienced some of the worst of days in the history of A&T football to going out as winners. They came here under the worst of circumstances and they will be leaving A&T football program in a much stronger position and a lot better than they found it when they signed on four years ago.

This class albeit a small one, can now look back and rightfully lay claim that they were the ones that were instrumental in providing the leadership from being losers to being winners. These guys will be missed but the groundwork has been set for better days ahead and we thank them.

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Now for the reason for the today’s column, the final football game of the season, A&T and NCCU. On paper, these two teams cancel each other out. NCCU excels with special teams and making big plays off turnovers and changing the momentum of a contest instantaneously. The Eagles are a big play team that has big play weapons, great kick returners but not great kickers and that is how they tailor their offensive game.

They will throw a haymaker every chance they can and will force the action by testing you every down. They also will be playing to perhaps sew up the head coaching job for interim head coach Dwayne Foster with win over the Aggies on the road.

A&T is a total contradiction in styles in that the Aggies like to play defense, force their opponents to throw first, and control the clock and time of possession behind a good offensive line. Make no mistake the Aggies will ride the coat tails of the obvious rookie of the year and also the leading candidate for player of the year in true freshman record-breaking running back Tarik Cohen and compliment that with a controlled passing game with senior QB Lewis Kindle. A&T is not fancy. The Aggies will come directly at you.

It’ll come back down to the same things it does every week – whoever wins the battle of turnovers, the kicking game, who can run the football, and who executes, both offensively and defensively up front. Central will be pumped coming in to Greensboro and they will be jacked up after their win over Norfolk last week but the Aggies have seemingly have figured out that when they eliminate penalties and execute in the red zone they can score points and a lot of them.

This will be close game but look for A&T to make enough key plays here and there to pull away late. A&T leads the all-time series 48-31-5. I like their chances to make it number 49 come late Saturday afternoon.

PREDICTION

N.C. A&T – 31

NCCU – 20