Week 3 of the season there were some real statements made by the predicted conference front runners and strong performances by a couple of middle of the pack teams promises that the Big South Conference race is going to be real a week-to-week battle as the non conference season, for the most part, winds down this week.
Last week Monmouth let it be known that they aren’t ready to relinquish their spot at the top of the conference without a fight as they destroyed Charleston Southern 41-14 on the road behind Freshman quarterback Tony Muskett who was 18-of-29 for 208 yards and two touchdowns for the game as Monmouth rolled up 386 yards of total offense.
Campbell piled up 580 yards of total offense and logged a school record 10 takeaways, downing visiting Presbyterian 72-0 Saturday at Barker-Lane Stadium in Buies Creek, NC.
Hampton University shook off a early deficit to Howard to corral the title of “The Real HU” in a wild 48-32 score fest before more than 14,000 in Washington, DC
Gardner-Webb had no problem is plummeting D-II Lincoln jumping out to a insurmountable 46 point halftime lead and then called off the dogs in a 56-0 rout at home.
North Alabama came within a frog’s hair of pulling off huge upset before finally falling to Jacksonville State 27-24.
Kennesaw State got its wishbone in high gear against Wofford rushing for 327 yards while holding the Terriers to just 67 yards on the ground in their 31-10 road win.
Howard (0-3) at Robert Morris (0-1), ESPN+, 12:00 pm
Holy Cross (2-1) at #19 Monmouth (2-1,1-0), ESPN+, 1:00 pm
#9 Jacksonville State (2-1) at #25 Kennesaw State (2-1), ESPN+, 3:00 pm
Charleston Southern (1-1,0-1) at East Carolina (1-2), ESPN+, 6:00 pm
Western Carolina (0-3) at Gardner-Webb (1-2), ESPN+, 6:00 pm
N.C. Central (2-1) at North Carolina A&T (0-2), ESPN+, 6:00pm
NCCU Coach Trei Oliver enters his second full season at the Eagle helm and things have been on the upswing at the start of the 2021 season. After nearly a complete personnel realignment from 2019, the Eagles are quickly emerging as a force to be reckoned with.
Much of the improvement can attributed to the fact that the Eagles return starting quarterback Davius Richard (6-3, 220) who is quickly developing into a true dual threat in the offense.
Richard threw for over 2,000 yards as a freshman and is off to a good start in 2021 completing 30-58 passes (54%) for 290 yards through two games. Richard is questionable for Saturday’s game because of an injury suffered against Marshall as he sat out last week’s NCCU’s late come from behind win over Winston Salem State. If Richard can’t go then true freshman Walker Harris will get the nod.
Either way, the Aggies can expect a heavy dose of the run lead by backs Jqmal Currie-Elliott (5-10, 180, So.), Latrell Collier (5-10,185, So.) and Isaiah Totten (5-9, 190, Sr.).
The stalwarts in the offensive line will be senior guards Bruce Trigg (6-4,300) and Robert Mitchell (6-4,310).
NCCU has some very experienced and capable receivers in their starting lineup with tight end Isiah Macklin (6-5,215, Sr.), Tre Pratt (6-1,190, Jr.), Tyler Barnes (6-4,210, Jr.) and Ryan McDaniel (6-2,215, Sr.).
Defensively the Eagles like to switch up looks on a regular between three and five man fronts. Because they are not very big, NCCU uses a lot of stunts and blitzes with their athleticism. Jesse Malit (6-3,235, Jr.), Quantez Mansfield (6-2,290, So.) Colby Warrior (6-2,245, Jr.) and Chuck Manning (6-2,255, Jr.) compose the front four.
Linebackers Noah Rainbow-Douglas (6-0,215, Sr.) and Matt Stevens (6-1,220, Sr.) are a very active duo. Strong safety Stephen Stokes (5-11,170) , corner and excellent return specialist Brian Codrington (5-9,170) and transfer Jauqine Vukobradovich (6-1, 185) will hold down the back end.
It’s been a long, long time since A&T last played a football game on their home field in Truist Stadium – 672 days to be exact. Other than the Aggie elite track and field program totally obliterating the entire MEAC in the outdoor championships back last May, commencement ceremonies just a few weeks later, and a few high school and amateur track events over the summer, the 21,500 seat venue, the largest in the Big South, has been visibly dormant over the last 22 months.
All of that will come to a screeching halt in just a few more hours as A&T will entertain it’s most fiercest rival in literally everything as the Eagles of N.C. Central come calling. This game will have a much different feel than it has in recent times.
The Aggies are no longer members of the MEAC but are now part of the Big South Conference so the usual championship implications for both schools for are no longer on the table.
The annual late November season ending finale for both teams has been skewered for the next decade in favor of the game being moved back to early September dates that drew near sell out crowds which were very prominent throughout the 80’s well into the early 2000’s.
And this year, for the first time since 2010, North Carolina A&T enters Saturday’s contest winless (0-2) against a rejuvenated NCCU program that is 2-1 on the young season. The Aggies have struggled with in its first two games, showing every bit and then some of anticipated rust from the long layoff of a Covid year in a 28-18 road loss to Furman. They followed that with a shockingly efficient first half against Duke before a depleted defense missing five key starters gave way in the second in a 45-17 loss.
Still, before Duke’s superior offensive depth and size took control, it was the A&T offense that some strong signs that their rust was beginning to wear off . Now with a week off to retune their schemes and a chance to get those missing key players back at full strength, Aggie fans are anxious to see if this will be the belated coming out party for a team that was and still is expected to launch a serious bid for the Big South crown in their inaugural of conference competition.
A&T’s slow start has been a combination of things – a very challenging early season non conference schedule, unforeseen key injuries right of the gate, and the one really land mine bug-a-boo that all every college team in the country is facing this fall in Covid-19.
My take on the season thus far is pretty simple. In Week One, I don’t believe this club was ready to play at top speed right out of the gate and that was disappointing part because I think most fans expected much more. However, no one could complain about the effort.
In Week Two, despite the loss to Duke, A&T was surprisingly good for most of the game against an ACC opponent that was far superior in every way from the team it faced the week before.
Now after the bye week, if the Aggies are as near as being completely healthy as they can be and if they do indeed get back those missing key personnel back on defense, then Saturday’s game could be well worth the wait.
The biggest obstacle facing A&T this week is their mental preparation after so much uncertainty and trepidation over the last three weeks. It’s been a couple of week’s of resetting, repetition, and in large part reacquainting themselves with their priorities and having their veteran leadership to really step up to set the intensity for this team going forward.
It’s the home opener. You’re playing on your home field before your fans, family, and friends. But most importantly , It’s Central. You don’t need any more motivation than that.
For me, like most everyone else in Greensboro area, its a chance to get back outside around people and get back to some sort of normalcy of just taking in the atmosphere – the salivating smells rising from the hundreds of tailgates, old friends laughing, back slapping and telling lies, the exciting sounds of the BGMM marching down Lindsay Street down to the stadium, the excited fans all clad in their blue and gold outfits from head to toe, and that nervous anticipation as the team captains meet to shake hands at midfield for the coin toss. Man did I miss it.
Feels so good to be back.
N.C. A&T – 31
NCC – 14