College football is entering the final month of the regular season and the field of legitimate contenders is rapidly being narrowed down to the chosen few. This past weekend was sort of elimination round as two major contenders in the Big South met in a head-to-head matchup of unbeatens featuring the preseason number #1 and #2 teams with the winner having complete control of its destiny and a strong chance to win the conference title outright and advance into the FCS playoffs.
A sellout homecoming crowd of some 21,500 fans were in attendance in Greensboro at Truist Stadium on the campus of North Carolina A&T as the Campbell Camels and the Aggies played what was probably the most exciting game thus far in the Big South this season.
N.C. A&T overcame an 18-point halftime deficit and completely dominated the second half with a 35-point barrage to knock Campbell 45-38 from the unbeaten ranks. Running back Bhayshul Tuten rushed for a career high 256 yards and 2 TDs, quarterback Jalen Fowler threw for 233 and 2 TDs, and wide out Zach Leslie had 4 receptions for 124 yards and 2TDs as the Aggies posted up a season high 566 yards in total offense in the win.
The Camels jumped to a commanding lead in the first quarter scoring on their first four possessions and staked a 28-10 lead at the half. But the Aggies came out of the locker room on fire, storming back by scoring three touchdowns in the first eight minutes of the third quarter, fueled by a key 42-yard pick six return by linebacker Jacob Roberts. A&T took the lead for good with 8:54 left in the fourth on a 6-yard run by Wesley Graves. Campbell turned the ball over on downs after a fourth down pass attempt went awry with 6:06 left and the Aggies converted three successive third downs to run out the clock to seal the win.
Gardner Webb kept pace with the leaders and remained unbeaten in conference play as they edged Bryant 48-40 in a shootout down in Boiling Springs, NC. Senior quarterback Bailey Fisher completed 23-of-28 passes for 356 yards and five touchdowns and ran for another score in his second dominant effort under center over the past two weeks. The Clayton, Ga., redshirt senior had a stretch of 10 consecutive completions in the first half – going 10-of-10 for 225 yards and two touchdowns.
Kennesaw State had its hands full with stubborn Charleston Southern for most of the day but managed to pull away late in the fourth quarter to seize a tough hard fought 40-30 decision over the Buccaneers. Xavier Shepherd led the Owl offense going 11-of-25 through the air with 158 passing yards and one touchdown. The quarterback also added 62 rushing yards on 28 carries. Shepherd collected two rushing touchdowns in the contest and has totaled 31 for his career.
Appalachian State was looking for some relief from their tough Sun Belt Conference schedule before their upcoming meeting with Coastal Carolina when they put Robert Morris on schedule for homecoming and it worked out just fine for them as the Mountaineers had little trouble in dispatching the winless Colonials 42-3. App quarterback Chase Brice completed 17 of his 23 passing attempts for 185 yards and four touchdowns to four different receivers.
Big South TV Schedule – Saturday, Nov. 5
Robert Morris at Charleston Southern* – 12pm, ESPN3
Norfolk State at North Carolina A&T – 12pm, ESPN+
Campbell at Bryant* – 2pm, ESPN+
Game Notes courtesy of nsuspartans.com:
Spartans Face Old MEAC Foe N.C. A&T in Final Non-Conference Matchup – Norfolk State University Athletics (nsuspartans.com)
Game Notes courtesy of ncataggies.com:
A&T Football Returns to Truist Stadium for Noon Start – North Carolina A&T (ncataggies.com)
The Aggies will host their final regular season nonconference opponent this Saturday at noon when an old familiar friend comes calling in the form of Norfolk State. The Spartans and the Aggies will be meeting for the first time in 3 seasons when both schools were members of the MEAC. NSU still remains as a member but the Aggies switched conference affiliation back in 2021 to the Big South and have changed again to be a member of the CAA in all sports except football which won’t begin playing until next fall.
As these two programs renew their rivalry, the first encounter of a new 4-year agreement, their fortunes for this current season couldn’t be more different. A&T, after an 0-3 start in September, went undefeated in the month of October winning five straight and sit atop of the Big South leader board with a 3-0 mark and 5-3 overall. During the streak the Aggies have been averaging almost 40 points per outing while defensively they lead the BSC in both rushing defense and total defense.
For Norfolk the scenario hasn’t been near as rosy as the Spartans are just 1-7 on the season with its lone win coming on the road at Morgan State three weeks ago. To say that this is in a rebuilding year would be a cliché in a lot of cases but for NSU it couldn’t be truer. The Spartan defense is allowing close to 40 points and 437 yards in total offense per game while their offense is averaging 285 yards and 13.6 points per game.
Coach Dawson Odums lost some 28 players who either were full or part-time starters from 2021, his first year as the head man and it has been a slow and sometimes painful process in trying to fill all of the void left by graduation and losses to the transfer portal. Things were exacerbated even more in the spring when accusations were made, and lawsuits were filed regarding alleged hazing with sexual overtones of a pair of freshmen players by upperclassmen.
Odums has been very frank about the state of the NSU program but is convinced that he has the blueprint to turn the Spartan’s fortunes around if given time, patience, and financing. The biggest woes for Dawson have been his being forced to rely on so many inexperienced young players especially along the offensive and defensive lines and at the quarterback position.
The Spartans will most likely start 3 freshmen, a sophomore, and senior in their starting offensive line this weekend and two freshmen, a junior transfer, and one senior on defense. It had been hoped that Eastern Illinois transfer quarterback Otto Kuhns (6-3,195) would pay immediate dividends and while the sophomore has had his moments, he hasn’t distanced himself enough as a starter to avoid sharing time with junior Jaylan Adams (5-10,184). Both are 55 % passers with 4 TD passes each to their credit.
A bright spot-on offense has been true freshman running back Jordin Lennon (5-10,211) who just last week had the first 100-yard game of his career in NSU’s disappointing 49-21 loss to Howard at home in Dick Price Stadium. He is the leading ball carrier with 267 yards and 3 TDs on the year.
Defensively everything begins and ends with the inside linebackers in Tyler Long (5-11,222) and Marquis Hall (6-3,220) who lead the team in tackles by a wide margin. Amadeu Vital (6-1, 270 Jr.) is the down lineman of note. The Spartans have a fair share of size and height in their secondary with Joseph White (6-1, 170), Stuart Anderson Jr. (6-2, 211), and Pierre Royster (6-2, 198).
On paper this appears to be an overmatch of depth of talent, size, strength, and speed very much akin to the Robert Morris game of a few weeks ago. Coach Dawson said earlier in the week during his MEAC weekly press conference that his Spartans will have their hands full and will have play its game of the year in order to keep pace. “A&T is big, physical, and fast. They are the bullies of the block. That’s their mentality as a team. They take on the attitude of a bully, that they will impose their will and dominate you on every play. It’s their intensity. We’ve got to somehow match them in that intensity.”
This Norfolk team isn’t as bad as their 1-7 record would indicate. They have played nearly everyone very close for a good while but their youth and a lack of quality depth has contributed to the wheels coming off usually in the second half as it did at home against Howard last week. It will be interesting to see how they respond going against a much more talented and stronger opponent on the road.
A&T is coming off its biggest win of the year over Campbell with last week’s dramatic homecoming second half comeback. One of two things will become quite evident in the first quarter of this game. The Aggies could get off to a slow start suffering from GHOE hangover or they will replicate what they did with Robert Morris, be mentally focused and jump on Norfolk right out of the gate and go for an early knockout blow.
I just can’t see A&T now sliding off into bad habits this late in the season with a shot at securing a winning record with six wins after last season’s disappointment and the very strong possibility of conference championship now in sight.
Make it six in a row as the Aggies do what they’ve been doing for the last five weeks – run the football, stop the run, and win the kicking game. That old chicken recipe is still as good as ever.
N.C. A&T – 45
Norfolk State – 6