The MEAC race which appeared to be pretty much over before last weekend got a shock to the system when Florida A&M was knocked from the ranks of the unbeaten to fall into a tie for first place with N.C. A&T as the Rattlers fell behind early and never recovered in a 31-23 loss to Howard on the road. FAMU can still win the Celebration bowl bid with a win over arch rival Bethune Cookman in two weeks in the Florida Classic in Orlando. But a loss there coupled with A&T winning its last two games would send the Aggies back to Atlanta for a second straight year.
Speaking of A&T, the Aggies broke open a close contest with Norfolk State midway in 3rd quarter powered by fifth year senior receiver Malik Wilson’s 99-yard kickoff return and cruised to a 37-20 homecoming win before a capacity crowd of 21,500 plus at BB&T Stadium.
North Carolina Central celebrated their homecoming with a anticipated 52-12 shellacking of tiny Edward Waters in Durham. Delaware State made it two wins in a row with an impressive defensive 25-6 drubbing of Savannah State while Morgan dropped a heartbreaker at home to Bethune Cookman 30-28.
On last night NCCU (4-5, 2-3) traveled to Daytona Beach to tangle with Bethune Cookman (6-5, 4-2) and were eliminated from any chance for a shared piece of the MEAC title osing in double overtime to the Wildcats 28-25 .
In Saturday’s action S.C. State (3-5, 3-2) will face FAMU (6-3, 5-1) in Tallahassee in a designated non-conference game at 4 p.m. Delaware State (2-7, 2-4) will be looking for its third straight win when the travel to Morgan State (2-7, 1-4). Howard (4-4, 4-2) will have a tough match-up with Norfolk State (3-5, 1-4) and N.C. A&T (7-2, 4-1) will try to improve their 13th ranked FCS standing as they will deal with pesky Savannah State (2-6, 1-4) on the road. Kickoff for all of these games is set for 1 p.m.
Savannah State’s days on the MEAC football scene are rapidly to a end and the Tigers will hope to pull one last surprise before exiting to join up with the SIAC as they move back down to D-II competition next season under coach third year coach Erik Raeburn.
Most preseason prognosticators had the Tigers moving up the food chain a bit heading into this season but a highly erratic and unproductive offense left the defense on the field for far too long allowing opposing teams to eventually wear SSU down in the second half in most losses.
The Tigers have been very good on defense and are currently second in the conference behind A&T. Their big strength has been against the pass as they allow just 176 yards per game and have intercepted at least one pass in 9 straight games. Terrance McCray (5-10, 200, So.), Marine vet, is the emotional leader of the secondary.
The big run stoppers and sack leaders for SSU are linebackers Walter Yates (6-1, 200, Fr.) and Mulik Simmons (6-0, 225, Sr.). Up front Brandon Carswell (6-0, 276, Jr.), Stefan Banks (6-3, 265,Jr.) and Aaron Robinson (6-4, 235, Fr.) are long and very quick off the ball.
As good as SSU has been on defense the offense has been very spotty to say the least. QB D’Vonn Gibbons (6-2, 205, Fr.) has thrown for 569 yards and 3 touchdowns against 4 picks with a completion rate of just 42.7 percent. However, the elusive Gibbons is extremely fast once in the open field and his 411 yards rushing on the year is a testament to his running ability.
The run heavy Tigers also have a strong and very fast running back in Rashad Saxton 95-9, 170, Jr.). Freshman Jaylen McCloud (6-1, 195) is the power back in most short yardage and red zone situations. Derrick Simmons (6-1, 285, Sr.), Jacob Martin (6-4, 300, So.), Harvey King (6-4, 275, So.) are an experienced group of drive blockers.
The Aggies grabbed its eight straight homecoming win against a very testy Norfolk State squad last week but the big news coming out of that game was the concussion suffered by QB Lamar Raynard early in the fourth quarter. While no official announcement on his playing status has been made as of press time, Raynard is expected to miss this week’s game with Savannah State.
Backup QB Kylil Carter will most likely get the call and he is no stranger to playing time. Carter has etched his mark as being a solid quarterback who is not necessarily spectacular in style but is underrated as a passer and is extremely adept in making big plays in big games as evidenced in the upset of East Carolina back in September when he took over midway in the second half for a injured Raynard throwing two huge fourth quarter TD passes including the game winner to seal the historic win.
Carter is well known for his running ability and at a robust 5-10, 235 pounds he often acts as an additional power back in an offense with an already potent running game. The extra threat that the red shirt senior presents means that teams won’t necessarily be so eager to blitz as they have been in recent weeks.
What he will need to do in his first start of the year will be to play within himself, not force his passes, trust his offensive line and the running game with Marquell Cartwright and Ja-Maine Martin then just let the game come to him. The sooner he gets comfortable in the pocket the sooner the game will slow down for him and the offense will find it’s rhythm.
Defensively, the mission is pretty clear with Savannah – stop their read option. Gibbons is not a proficient passer but what he does do is create great ball fakes, make people miss and is really tough to catch once he gets to the second level. Saxton is a consummate trail back and is equally dangerous once he turns up field. The Aggies will need to get penetration, tackle well, and not get lulled to sleep in the secondary because the Tigers have a very capable 6-3 deep threat tight end in junior Casey Wilson.
A&T will need to be fundamentally sound in their blocking and tackling, stay disciplined, cut out the totally unnecessary game killing penalties and the rest should take care of itself. A&T is the better team but the better team won’t win if it isn’t mentally prepared to take the underdog opponent seriously and then take care of business.
The Aggies are lurking just outside the FCS top ten and a win Saturday could, believe it or not, catapult them into a real interesting postseason position of competing for top eight playoff consideration or a still possible bowl bid but they must first win on the road this weekend for any of that to have a chance of happening.
N.C. A&T – 27
Savannah St – 7