The moment of truth is fast approaching in the Big South as the last of the unbeatens, North Carolina A&T and Gardner-Webb, will face off in a true title match-up on this upcoming final weekend of the regular season as A&T will travel to Boiling Springs to take on GWU in what should easily be the game of the week in FCS football.
Both teams came out of Week 11 with big conference wins to remain unscathed to set the stage for an epic championship match-up.
A&T shook off a slow start against Charleston Southern and gained control of the game in the third quarter behind a stingy unbending defensive effort while mustering just enough offense to pull away from the stubborn Buccaneers to corral a 20-10 win at home.
A&T’s super sophomore running back Bhayshul Tuten notched his ninth straight 100-yard performance rushing for 106 yards and one TD as well as leading the team in receiving yards with 78 and a TD on a 6-yard reception. The big difference maker was a 95-yard kickoff return for a score from junior Taymon Cooke which carried both teams into the half tied at 7-7. Cooke’s return was very timely as CSU had just taken a 7-0 lead midway in the second quarter seconds before on 29-yard scoring pass from QB Tony Bartalo to wide out Nivon Holland.
CSU took the lead 10-7 on a field goal early in the third quarter but the Aggie offense came alive, putting together back-to-back scoring drives of 73 and 59 yards to take control by the end of the period. It was then the A&T defense put the locks on the Bucs’ offense as CSU could only muster 17 yards of total offense on their final six possessions.
Gardner Webb staked themselves out to a commanding three touchdown lead by the half but needed every bit of it to hold off a late Campbell comeback attempt as the Running Bulldogs escaped with a 42-35 victory.
Senior quarterback Bailey Fisher completed 30-of-38 passes with one interception and three TDs, while adding a rushing score. Narii Gaither rushed 19 times for 100 yards and GWU amassed 583 yards of total offense. T.J. Luther finished with eight receptions and 132 years with two scores for GWU.
Campbell put up a valiant fourth quarter effort outscoring the Bulldogs 14-0. With 2:20 left on the clock the Camels drove to the GWU 30-yard line but gave up two big sacks and turned the ball over on downs in the closing seconds of the contest.
In other action Robert Morris continued their winless ways dropping a 27-9 decision to Murray State on the road. The Colonials put together their best overall performance of the year as they led 9-7 going into the fourth quarter against the heavily favored Racers. But the upset bid was not to be as Murray State was able to take control in the fourth quarter, getting a trio of rushing touchdowns, including a pair from running back Cortezz Jones.
Bryant at Robert Morris* – 12 pm, ESPN3
North Carolina A&T at Gardner-Webb* – 12 pm, ESPN+
Campbell at Delaware State – 2 pm, ESPN+
Game notes and preview courtesy of gwusports.com:
GAME NOTES: Gardner-Webb Hosts North Carolina A&T Saturday For Big South Title – Gardner-Webb University Athletics (gwusports.com)
Game notes and preview courtesy of: greensboro.com:
Gardner-Webb reverses course, gets to title game with A&T (greensboro.com)
It really is fitting that this year’s Big South championship comes down to the final game of season between the two hottest teams in the conference. A&T is in the midst of a seven-game winning streak after starting out 0-3 while Gardner Webb is on a four-game streak after an inauspicious 1-4 start of their own.
A&T will be taking its final bow in the BSC as it moves to the CAA next year along with another BSC entrant in Campbell University. GWU will remain and become part of the new Big South-Ohio Valley football coalition so it’s highly unlikely that this pair will cross paths again anytime soon after tomorrow afternoon.
These two teams dominate nearly all of the important statistical categories but on different sides of the football. GWU has been an offensive juggernaut averaging nearly 500 yards of total offense per game and over the course of their mid-season transformation have racked up over 40 points per game. Their 5th year senior QB Bailey Fisher has thrown for 2600 yards and 17 touchdowns with senior wideout TJ. Luther has over 1,000 yards in receptions with 51. Running back Naril Gaither, the pre-season Big South player of the year, has bounced back from an early season injury and has returned to the top form that saw him break the 1,000 yard mark a year ago.
On the flip side North Carolina A&T has been playing lights out defense as of late ranking 8th nationally in total defense allowing 285 yards per game. The Aggies are especially stingy giving up 95 yards against the run. The Aggie secondary leads the conference in coming up with interceptions with 14 and in pass defense efficiency.
So, we will get to witness the irresistible force of the GWU offense go up against the immovable object of the A&T defense. While that may very well turn out to be the case there has been another side of that equation that could come into play, the very reverse of that analogy. The A&T offense versus the GWU defense.
While The GWU offense is a high-octane big play offense, A&T is a methodical balanced team that prides itself on grinding down opponents with a big offensive line, a punishing ground game coupled with a reliable ball control passing attack that uses up the clock and converts at a high percentage inside the red zone.
The GWU defense has had a bend don’t break texture to it all year long as they do allow a lot of yards surrendering an average of 367 yards per outing and points at 26.5 points per contest. The best possible defense against a team like GWU will be an A&T offense that can run the ball as efficiently as it has over the last two months, consistently stay in very makeable short down and distance situations and score touchdowns in the red zone as opposed to field goals.
The Aggies will need to establish offensive line dominance and force GWU to commit more people to the box to stop the run they would like. A&T has a distinct physical advantage in their fast and much taller receivers against the smaller GWU defensive backs in one-on-one match ups. There will be such opportunities and a lot of them if A&T’s gets an offensive rhythm going with its running game.
This is going to be a gigantic strategic chess match between these two coaches. Most would characterize the 33-year-old GWU head man Tre Lamb as the young rising gunslinger whose “Air Raid” offense is both wide open and high scoring matched up against the battle tested sly old fox Sam Washington whose philosophy begins and ends keeping things as simple as possible – run the ball and stop the run.
This will be a game of contrasting styles, as different as night and day. I expect both will have varying degrees of success throughout the day. The feeling out process will be important but don’t expect to see a track meet tomorrow.
Instead, it will probably resemble of shots and counter shots with a lot of probing and jabbing early on until someone makes a mistake and finds a weakness that can be exploited. A fast start will be important, but it will come down to which team can keep their focus throughout and finish the strongest in those crucial minutes late into the fourth quarter.
Either way it should be one of the best games of the year. Championship games usually are.
N.C. A&T – 31
Gardner Webb – 25