It was a week of firsts in the Big South last week as two of the preseason predicted front runners garnered their first win of the year as the conference winds down their non-conference slate and begin to prepare for the first conference match-ups.
North Carolina A&T has played one of the toughest September schedules in recent memory and while facing a lot of the high level competition help contribute to an 0-3 start it might have played in their favor as the Aggies knocked off defending HBCU national champion South Carolina State 41-27 before 14,000-plus fans in Greensboro, NC.
It was a pounding ground game that was instrumental to A&T’s success as sophomore running back Bhayshul Tuten ran for 140 yards and two touchdowns on just 12 carries and scored a third on a spectacular 15-yard shovel pass from senior QB Jalen Fowler. The Aggies ran for 284 yards while holding the Bulldogs to just 12 yards rushing on the day. The Aggies trailed for most of the first half before putting up 10 points in the last 40 seconds of the first half to take a 17-13 lead and then another 14 points to open the third to break the game open.
Ethan Gettman kicked a 37-yard field goal as time expired to lift Bryant to a 31-29 victory over Long Island University on Saturday afternoon at Bethpage Federal Credit Union Stadium, giving the Bulldogs their first win of the season. QB Zevi Eckhaus finished 19-of-30 for 180 yards, while Running back Ishod Byarm posted his first-career 100-yard game with 107 yards on 16 carries.
Sophomore QB Jace Williams came off the bench to run for two touchdowns and throw for another as Furman rallied from a nine-point second half deficit to down Charleston Southern, 24-19, Saturday afternoon at Buccaneer Field. Furman overcame a rough first half to secure the win. The Paladins’ first seven possessions of the game ended with two fumbles, an interception, three punts, and a safety for Charleston Southern.
Robert Morris remained winless as they were blasted on their home turf 45-3 by East Tennessee State. ETSU totally dominated the Colonials jumping out to an insurmountable 42-0 lead by halftime as running back Jacob Saylors rushed for 170 yards and three touchdowns in the first half to bolster East Tennessee State. He scored on runs of 15, 39 and two yards, respectively, the last of which gave ETSU a 28-0 lead at the 8:41 mark of the second quarter.
16th ranked Mercer jumped out to a quick 21-0 first quarter lead had very few problems the rest of the way as they defeated Gardner Webb 45-14. This marked GWU’s third straight loss as well as the same number of weeks of being without the services of all conference RB Narii Gaithers. It definitely showed on the offensive production side as GWU was held to just 47 yards rushing.
Big South TV Schedule – Saturday, Oct. 1
NC Central at Campbell – 12 noon, ESPN+
Gardner Webb at Marshall – 3:30pm, ESPN+
Robert Morris at Delaware State – 6pm ESPN+
Bryant at North Carolina A&T* – 7pm, ESPN3
N.C. A&T vs. Bryant Preview and Game Notes
N.C. A&T Preview courtesy of ncataggies.com
N.C. A&T Game Notes
Bryant Preview courtesy of bryantbulldogs.com
Bryant Game Notes
In last week’s 41-27 win over defending HBCU National Champion South Carolina State, North Carolina A&T’s gave perhaps its best and most balanced overall offensive performance since 2019. On the positive side of things, Bhayshul Tuten is making an extremely strong early case for Player of the Year honors as he eclipsed the 100-yard mark for a third straight week racking up 140 yards and two TDs on the ground and added a leaping somersault scoring reception off a well designed a shovel pass play.
Tuten is now the leading rusher in the Big South averaging 105 yards per game with 7.5 yards per carry. The A&T kicking game is hitting on all cylinders as place kicker Andrew Brown is 7-8 on field goals and has been perfect on PATs and leads the conference with a 87.5 percent accuracy rate. Punter Caleb Brickhouse is currently second in the Big South in punting 42.3 yards per punt.
A&T is leading the conference in total defense (322 yds. per game) with a third of the season now in the books. The Aggies are first in run defense allowing 113 yards and third in pass defense at 209 yards allowed. A&T leads the league in interceptions (4) and is second in pass defense efficiency, a dramatic improvement over this time last year.
The win over SCSU was big for a number of reasons but one of the most important perhaps was gaining some momentum going into conference play against Bryant, a first-time opponent who is one of three teams in the upper tier of the Big South.
Most folks around here never heard of Bryant as they have made their reputation in the Northeast Conference (NEC) where they had become a power before exiting for the Big South back in the spring. The Bulldogs feature a high scoring offense built around sophomore quarterback Zevi Eckhaus who was the NEC offensive player of the year in 2021 as a true freshman.
The Aggie defense is going to have to be on their toes as Eckhaus, a prolific pocket passer, has the unique ability to extend plays and is a dangerous runner when forced out on to the edges. It will be crucial that A&T’s secondary stays with their assignment once the scramble begins as Bryant is primarily an aerial team that utilizes the short and medium range passing game extremely well.
Defensively Bryant is a swarming team that flashes to the point of attack and their backs are very active in run support. While not overly big along the defensive front, they compensate for the lack of size with its strong linebackers, led by Joe Adreessen and Ryan Saddler who are both excellent tacklers. Still the Bulldogs have been somewhat vulnerable to that have power running games.
While severe weather conditions associated with Hurricane Ian should be long gone before the 7 pm kickoff, field conditions might come into play as the game develops on the wet natural grass field at Truist Stadium.
Both of these teams have had problems with penalties and Bryant currently leads the FCS as the most heavily penalized team in the country. And while A&T suffered from a rash of personal foul penalties in a highly charged contest with SCSU a s week ago, expect the Aggies to be on their best behavior after having two players tossed because of after whistle shenanigans and catching the public wrath from its most ardent fan base.
A&T’s keys this week will demand that the defense be on their toes and not lose track of their secondary assignments and then find a way to contain Eckhaus from making big plays out off of scramble. Offensively the Aggies need to do what they do best which is running the football while mixing in play action to take advantage of the man-to-man matchups on the outside as Bryant crowds the box.
Expect an early chess match and a up tempo game plan from both teams with scripted plays until the initial feeling out process of the first quarter subsides. This is the only conference contest slated for Saturday and with a win, A&T can go into its bye week and the second half of season with a ton of momentum and a much different scenario from it did appear to be a couple of weeks ago.
Bryant is a dangerous football team, but the Aggies appear to have finally found their offensive identity and will get a couple of their bigger playmakers back on defense just in time against one of the better offensive teams it will face in the conference. If the Aggies can continue be aggressive without all of the unnecessary “extra”, continue to win the special teams’ game, and remain turnover free, then you have to like their chances at home.
N.C. A&T– 33
Bryant – 24