Road Woes Continue As Pirates Embarrass Aggies
By Tyler Ball, Guest Analyst
Published: October 25, 2021

N.C. A&T entered 2021 with aspirations to compete for the Big South title and an NCAA playoff bid in its inaugural season in the league. All of that ambition is lost after today’s 30-9 defeat at the hands of old MEAC rival Hampton in Armstrong Stadium. The Aggie road woes continue, as they fall to their fourth straight loss away from Truist Stadium, dating back to the 2019 regular season. Once again, the Aggie offense was plagued with miscues and untimely penalties, and the defense could not make enough plays to get off the field. The loss takes some luster off of next week’s homecoming game against Monmouth, but that’s a small issue right now. How did such a talented offense end up scoring just seven points in eight quarters? It’s a baffling conundrum that has put the team at 3-4, 2-2 in the Big South and with several teams that can score in addition to the Hawks remaining, a .500 season is in serious jeopardy. N.C. A&T has not seen back-to-back regular season losses since 2013, two years before the recent run of success began.



Quarterback – Once again, Jalen Fowler (17-25, 235 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT, 1 fumble lost) moved the Aggies down the field on the game’s opening drive, then disaster hit when he threw an interception into double coverage in the end zone. I’m totally confused now, because that’s two opening drives in a row that have gone deep into the red zone, but have resulted in zero points. Red zone offensive execution has been a problem in all but three games this season. Some of the issues are the lack of creativity in play calling, poor execution by the offensive line and Fowler’s decision making. Fortunately the Aggies were able to get the ball back via a safety after the interception, and Fowler connected with Jamison Warren, who, with a great block from Bhayshul Tuten, turned a short pass into a 74-yard touchdown. Unfortunately, Fowler didn’t do much else positive when it came to his other drives. A lot of his issues could be blamed on the offensive line, as he was forced to scramble most of the day. But when he strung a couple of solid plays together on a critical drive early in the third quarter, he was stripped from behind on a 12-yard draw, which killed A&T’s best scoring chance of the half. You could see the air deflate from the team, and in tandem, Hampton converted the turnover into a touchdown, which put the game out of reach. Now, what does the coaching staff do? Does Fowler or Kingsley Ifedi continue to play out the season? Or is it time to give freshman Zach Yeager a chance to run the team, and prepare him for next season? Fowler, Yeager and redshirting freshman Alston Hooker could create an interesting battle for the starting nod next season. Ifedi also has a season remaining, but he would likely remain as a change-of-pace type QB.

Running Back – Jah-Maine Martin (11 carries, 27 yards) found tough sledding once again. With Kashon Baker sitting out with an ankle issue and Bhayshul Tuten nursing a hurt shoulder, the running game has been slowed to a crawl. The Aggies have rushed for 122 yards on 50 carries the past two weeks. While the poor performance of the offense line has been noted, Martin may have a role in his own struggles. There were holes in the line that the 2019 Martin would have exploded through and turned into big plays. But the holes are not there now, and haven’t been there all season long. Fredderick Graves may see more playing time, while Tuten (5 carries, 25 yards, 2 catches, 13 yards) hopefully will improve as he gets more touches. Coach Sam Washington has said all season long that Big South teams like to pass to set up the run, and so far he has been correct, with the exception of triple option oriented Kennesaw State. Offensive coordinator Chris Barnette may have to change up his plan of attack to get the running game going.

Wide Receiver – Welcome to the party, Jamison Warren! Aggie fans got a true introduction to him as a featured receiver, as Fowler found him for five receptions for 103 yards. Warren became the first freshman receiver to hit the century mark since Elijah Bell in the 2016 Aggie-Eagle Classic. Look for him to be the slot receiver of the future, as he showed great speed and separation when he turned the corner on his 74-yard touchdown. Korey Banks (5 catches, 63 yards) was also open most of the day, but he would love to have a drop back at the Hampton 15-yard line that looked like a sure touchdown. Jordan McDaniel also had a beautiful leaping grab of 28 yards. Ron Hunt had a catch for 12 yards, but drew his fourth pass interference call of the season. Somehow, the offense has to get Hunt’s speed more involved in the game plan. He clears out safeties and allows for the slot guys to run free in the middle, but Fowler must continue to take more downfield shots, provided he is more accurate with his throws. We did not see Zach Leslie once again and hope he continues to get healthy.

Offensive Line – Today’s debacle began right here. The Pirate defensive line lived in the Aggies backfield all day, even more often than Kennesaw State. Fowler was sacked five times and had to scramble to avoid at least three more. For a while it seemed like Murphy’s law was in effect. It’s difficult to find positives except for the game’s opening drive and the eventual scoring drive. In those two drives, Fowler had time to throw from the pocket and hit checkdowns. After the third drive of the game, it seemed like the switch was turned off. All of a sudden, Martin had nowhere to run and protection broke down. To add insult to injury, a drive-killing unsportsmanlike conduct on Tariq Stewart capped off the frustrations of the day. Fowler’s second interception happened on the next play. I understand that the fan base is calling for creativity in play calling or to change what’s not working, but our offensive problems are foundational. If you can’t sustain blocks, NOTHING works. The soul searching needs to be done here, simply because of the nature of the position. Will this line take a step forward in technique and performance and put a hat on a hat?


Defensive Line – Eventually, things will break after being bent for so long. The statistics show that Hampton finished with 156 yards on 35 carries (4.5 yards per carry), but most of those yards occurred in the second half when the Pirates held on to the ball with a two score lead. After Hampton’s opening drive touchdown defensive line successfully stuffed the run in the remainder of half, which kept the game close. Unfortunately, the line could not keep Pirate quarterback Jett Duffey inside the pocket, even when they had the back of the end zone to assist them. With the exception of the safety from Karfa Kaba, Hampton’s offensive line pushed the line of scrimmage forward most of the day, which created room for Elijah Burris (17 carries for 86 yards, 1 TD).

Linebackers – Hampton tried to run the ball early on and the linebackers stepped up and made plays. But what hurt them today were adjustments in the passing game. Richie Kittles was everywhere (7 tackles). It was refreshing to see linebackers blitz today, but as Washington noted after the game, a defense will live and die by the blitz. Not only could they not bring Duffey down, he was able to find open receivers downfield and hurt the Aggies with 47 yards rushing on eight carries. In addition to blitzes being picked up, the backers were a step slow in coverage as well. Hampton was content to match up speedy slot guys Romon Copeland and Trent Cloud over the middle and Duffey continued to find them for key catches.

Secondary – Another long day for the defensive backs, as Duffey finished 17-of-28 for 285 yards and two touchdowns. Jadakis Bonds was targeted four times and caught all four, each being a big play. Bonds beat corner Amir McNeill for the Pirates opening drive touchdown, then added two deflating third down conversions and a fourth down conversion. The long touchdown to Copeland was a back-breaker, as Duffey went with a hard count to get an offside call, creating a free play. It seemed like the Aggie defense stopped once they saw the penalty but Copeland kept going right by the safety, who had no chance once the ball was thrown. It’s overly frustrating to see Aggie defensive backs play too deep off the ball on third downs, then compound the situation by not wrapping up and missing tackles. We understand that the motto is to not get beat deep, but where’s the playmaking to guard against first downs? Hampton converted 9 of 15 third downs on the day.

Special Teams

Punter Michael Rivers was one bright spot as he flipped the field position several times for the Aggie defense. He averaged 49 yards on four punts, with three of them downed inside the 10 yard line, for a splendid net average of 44 yards. Other than that, the kicking game was neutralized.


The grumbling noises in the valley are growing louder. Back-to-back regular season losses will do that to a fan base that is used to winning. We can also be honest, the Aggies have had a multitude of things go their way for almost a decade. The same breaks a team gets when it is on a winning streak have a propensity to turn the other way when losing happens. Part of the growing pains of adjusting to a new conference is understanding that things are going to be different, whether in the opponent or the styles of play. But the principles that the Aggies live by, stopping the run, winning the kicking game and winning the turnover battle, have been lacking the last couple of weeks. That will get you beat, no matter who the opponent is. Even though the goals of the season have gone by the boards, it is not time to hit the panic button, regardless of how the season ends. It is time to see how this group competes. The Aggies now have to show that they have the character to deal with adversity.

This game and resurgence of the rivalry takes on a bit of extra significance, not only because of being the two HBCUs in the Big South, it also energizes recruiting bases in the backyards of both schools. N.C. A&T recruits heavily in the Tidewater area, while Hampton recruits heavily in North Carolina. In fact, Pirate running back Elijah Burris, a native of Gastonia, was recruited by the Aggies and reserve quarterback Christofer Zellous, hails from defending state champion Grimsley High School in Greensboro. Several of these players know each other and it seemed to be a bit personal for the Pirate players to win this game. This loss should have been a wake up call for the entire team and the fan base. It’s time to respond, and the first opportunity will be next Saturday, at the Greatest Homecoming on Earth, an event that annually trends worldwide. Who will step up for the Aggies? Let’s find out.

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