Week Four of the 2021 season marked the conclusion of most of the non conference slate in general for most Big South teams for the foreseeable future. The attention will now turn to the first full week of conference play.
In recapping last week’s action, North Carolina A&T made good use of their bye week in shaking off any remaining rust from the long Covid layoff, getting completely healthy with six starters returning to the lineup and the difference was quite evident in a dominating 37-14 win over arch rival North Carolina Central before 15,000 enthusiastic fans in Greensboro.
Running back Kashon Baker had a big day rushing for 137 yards and one touchdown on just 12 carries and the A&T offense rolled up 427 yards in total offense in route to it’s first win of the season after an uncharacteristic 0-2 start.
In a huge eye-opener, Big South preseason top pick Monmouth was completely taken apart at home by Holy Cross in a 45-15 rout.
After being stopped on their opening drive, the Crusaders scored on their next four possessions on big plays after big plays to take a commanding 28-0 lead at the half and never looked back. Holy Cross doubled up Monmouth in total yardage for the game, 507 to 254.
Gardner Webb continues to surprise the football gods after a wild 54-32 win over Western Carolina. Quarterback Bailey Fisher passed for 261 yards and 2 touchdowns and the Bulldogs ran up another 291 on the ground in this high scoring affair.
After trailing 14-0 early, East Carolina had to fight for their very lives to avoid the upset by just squeaking by a pesky Charleston Southern 31-28 in Greenville, NC. CSU quarterback Jack Chambers had a career day against the Pirates with 418 yards on a record 38-61 passing attempts.
North Alabama controlled the tempo and forged a 14-3 halftime lead against Nicholls State but couldn’t sustain that momentum. Nicholls’ offense finally got untracked against the UNA defense late into the third quarter, then got an opportunistic scoop and score from it’s defense in route to scoring 28 straight points to close out the Lions 31-14.
This week will mark the first meeting ever between Robert Morris (1-1, 0-0) and N.C. A&T (1-2,0-0) at 1 p.m. in Greensboro for the Big South opener for both teams.
Despite their abysmal showing last week, Monmouth (1-2, 1-0) still has the early lead in the Big South race and will entertain rapidly improving Gardner Webb (2-2, 0-0) at 1 p.m.
It will the renewal of the Battle of the Bay between arch rivals Norfolk State (2-2 ) of the MEAC at Hampton (2-2) of the Big South and in one of the bigger rivalries in HBCU football and the hottest ticket in the Tidewater area.
#20 Kennesaw State (2-1) comes off their bye week and they will have a major non-conference showdown in Atlanta against #17 Jacksonville State (2-2) at 3 p.m.
Campbell (2-2, 0-0) will get a big test traveling south to take on a North Alabama team that is still searching for its win of the season (0-3, 0-0) at 7 p.m..
Big South TV Schedule – Saturday, Oct. 2
Gardner-Webb at Monmouth – 1pm, ESPN+
Robert Morris at North Carolina A&T – 1pm, ESPN3
Norfolk State at Hampton – 2pm, ESPN+
Jacksonville State at Kennesaw State – 3pm, ESPN+
Campbell at North Alabama – 7pm, ESPN+
N. C. A&T and Robert Morris will meet for the first time ever on the football field as the newest members of the Big South Conference and it will also be the Aggies very first ever conference game in their new conference affiliation.
The Colonials are also novices themselves in the Big South after opting out of the 2020 Covid season a year ago and various conference realignments across the FCS, made the jump to the Big South this past July, much earlier than its original target date of 2022.
Up until 2019, RMU had held allegiance to the Northeast Conference which it joined in 1996 after playing as an independent.
Head Coach Bernard Clark Jr. is in his third year as head coach and was the NEC C0-Coach of the year after going 7-5 in his second season in 2019.
After a standout career as a college player for Miami and later as a pro with the Cincinnati Bengals and the Seahawks, Clark had college stints as both an assistant and defensive coordinator at Liberty, Florida International, South Florida, Pittsburgh, Colorado State and Hampton.
After cancellation of their opener against Dayton back on Labor Day weekend because of a Covid outbreak, they suffered a 45-0 loss at the hands of Central Michigan on the road.
The Colonials evened the record to 1-1 after gaining a 22-16 win last week to cap a late fourth quarter comeback against Howard at home.
RMU prides itself on their defense that swarms in numbers and the heart of that Colonial defense is up front. Everything revolves around starting linemen Ricardo Watson (6-0,228, So.), Supulani Mailei (6-1,295, Gr.), Garrett Fairman (6-2,230, Jr.) and senior Matthew Holmes (6-2,250).
They also get a lot of run support from veteran linebackers Aneillo Buzzacco (6-0,230,Sr.) and Olivier Pageotte-Andre (6-0,223, Sr.) out of their base 4-3 alignment.
The verbal leader of the defense is strong safety Lorenzo Euline (6-1,180, So.) who leads RMU in tackles with 31 stops just two games into the season. Three seniors round out the rest of the secondary in corners Sydney Audiger (5-10,175)and Tavin Harville (6-1,195) along with free safety Jacob White (6-0,190).
The Colonials don’t do a lot of disguising of what they try do when they have the ball. They prefer to run the football on the outside along with tunnel screens and deep outs mixed in on the perimeter.
Offensively, senior quarterback George Martin (6-4,223, Sr.) will be under center for this run dominated offense. Alijah Jackson (5-9,170, Sr.) is the dominant running back as he rushed for 107 yards and one TD on 26 attempts against Howard.
The Colonials have a big experienced offensive line to run behind with Trevor Hicks (6-5,295, Gr.), Dylan Young (6-5,315, Gr.), and Spencer Goldberg (6-4,310, Sr.)
The big pass catching threat of note is wide out Demonte Martin (6-5, 210, Jr.).
Before we get into this week’s A&T-RMU match-up outlook, I would just like to some time to give a big thank you to the university administration on their masterful job of implementing the mandatory Covid protocols that were put in place for all home football games this fall.
Even with the large crowd of 15,000 plus that packed into Turist Stadium last Saturday night, the entire screening process was orchestrated to near perfection. The 14 screening posts scattered around the campus at various places adjacent to the all the major parking areas plus the drive through station for stadium tailgaters and VIPs at Memorial Stadium all ran smoothly and efficiently.
And while we’re at it a big shout goes out to the Aggie fan base and the student body as well for showing the nation that strict Covid regulations for major events can be put in place and executed without hassles or confrontation unlike what we see at so many other venues almost everyday. A great time was had by all in the safest possible environment.
Again, thank you A&T for a wonderful experience.
The preseason (non-conference) games are for all intents and purposes are now over with, not withstanding a mid-November date with South Carolina State. This week the Aggies begin a whole new quest on totally new ground with it’s first ever conference game in the Big South Conference.
Robert Morris is making its first trip down to Greensboro from the suburbs of Pittsburgh after getting by a young but stubborn Howard University squad 22-16 in a close contest last week.
RMU is a unknown commodity to most Aggie fans who will be attendance and like A&T, this is also the Colonials’ first season in the Big South after leaving the Northeast Conference (NEC) at the end of the 2019 season.
The Colonials are not spectacular in what they do and showed a very deliberate and conservative style in their win over Howard where they seemed content to make sure they took away big play opportunities defensively and then bide their time by grinding out long ball control drives as Howard began to tire late – a war of attrition if you will.
A&T on the other hand, jumped on North Carolina Central early on with a good offensive balance, a physical defense and made big plays on special teams to put the Eagles to bed for good by halftime.
Were RMU’s struggles with a mediocre Howard team last week a precursor going into Saturday afternoon? That’s hard to say because trying to draw equivalency from previous common opponents is usually a big mistake and can get coaches into trouble.
However there are some interesting match-ups to look at heading toward game time. A&T is much more experienced and accomplished at the skill positions, much larger and stronger on both fronts than Howard, has a superb kicking game, and are frankly better coached.
This game will be one of a chess match early on as both teams will be feeling each other out as teams do when they are unfamiliar with each other’s style of play and tendencies. Still playing at home should be of great benefit for team like A&T that has a reputation for feeding off the crowd and being aggressive right out of the box and especially so in Greensboro.
Saturday shouldn’t be any different as I strongly suspect that A&T would love to send a very loud and clear message to all the haters and skeptics that the switch in conferences from the MEAC to the Big South is of no consequence come kickoff time. The narrative still remains the same. A&T is going to be a major headache for someone not matter who they line up against.
N.C. A&T – 41
RMU – 10