The Big South championship race is beginning to take shape as we move into late October and it involves the three North Carolina teams all moving to the top of the food chain, at least after last weekend’s action. Campbell, North Carolina A&T, and Gardner Webb all remain undefeated in league play with some huge head-to-head matchups coming up real soon over the next 2-3 weeks.
In the meantime, Campbell got an early wake-up when Robert Morris broke a long 67-yard scoring play on its initial possession of the game. That was the Colonials highlight for the day as the Camels put together a dominating 28-point barrage in the second quarter and cruised to an easy 41-10 drubbing of RMU. Just how dominant was the Camel’s offense? They ran 94 offensive plays and held the ball for 38:46 in time of possession for 516 yards of total offense.
North Carolina A&T came off its bye week without any drama and completely overwhelmed D-II (SIAC) Edward Waters 45-7 as quarterback Jalen Fowler connected on 20-26 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns while super sophomore running back Bhayshul Tuten tied a school record with his fifth straight 100-yard rushing performance of the season with 104 yards and 2 touchdowns in just one half of action. The Aggie defense was just as impressive holding the Tigers to a meager 118 yards of total offense.
Gardner-Webb nearly pulled off of the biggest upsets of the year but ran out of time in their 21-20 loss to Liberty up in Lynchburg, Va. The Bulldogs dominated most of the game on both sides of the ball and led the Flames 20-14 with ten minutes to play. However, the Bulldog offense bogged down on its next two possessions and had an interception on its third and final drive after Liberty regained the lead with just over 8 minutes to go.
GWU got very strong performances from the skill positions as senior QB Bailey Fisher finished 23-of-43 for 239 yards and a touchdown, but was sacked five times. T.J. Luther caught eight balls for 131 yards and a score and Narii Gaither carried 21 times for 100 yards and a touchdown.
After letting Campbell escape in a close game, the week before, Charleston Southern broke finally broke through in the win column over Bryant in a thrilling 24-23 conference contest. CSU was trailed for the majority of the game and appeared to be ready to go on a couple occasions but each time managed to fight back finally taking lead on a 39-yard bomb from QB Tony Bartalo to wide out Seth Anderson.
The Bulldogs led 23-17 with 2:16 remaining but the Buccaneers were able to score the game-winning touchdown with 58 seconds left. Bryant then drove to the CSU 14 but the field goal attempt was blocked as time expired to ruin their homecoming.
Big South ESPN TV Schedule – Saturday, Oct. 22
North Carolina A&T at Robert Morris* – 12pm, ESPN+
Campbell at Jackson State – 3pm, ESPN+
Gardner-Webb at Charleston Southern* – 6pm, ESPN3
Aggies travel to Robert Morris for Big South football game (greensboro.com)
Everyone that I know has begun making final plans for next week as thousands will be making their annual pilgrimage to Greensboro to be part of the Greatest Homecoming on Earth or as it is now referred to by nearly anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock for the last 40 years or so – GHOE.
Still the much-anticipated match-up between N.C. A&T and Campbell is going to have to be put on hold for another week because the Aggies have made the trek up to the suburbs of Pittsburgh to do battle with Big South Conference foe Robert Morris. These two teams have been trending in two very different directions over the last month or so.
After a rough 0-3 start against a monstrous early season schedule, A&T settled down and now is riding a 3-game winning streak with impressive performances on both sides of the ball in each. During this streak, the Aggies have averaged just over 36 points and 409 yards of total offense per game. Defensively, A&T has been living up to its past reputation as being tough against the run and creating turnovers as evidenced by allowing just 36.6 yards rushing, 15.5 points per game and causing 10 takeaways in that stretch.
On the other hand, the 0-6 Colonials have been anemic offensively to say the very least. RMU’s offense averages just 9.3 ppg, 50.8 ypg rushing, 173.3 ypg passing, and has lost a whooping 15 turnovers. Fourth year Coach Bernard Clark has been trying to find a quarterback that can be dependable alternating between true freshman Zach Tanner and junior Jake Simmons after starter Anthony Chiccitt was lost in game two. You can imagine that glaringly lack of offense has made life very difficult for the RMU defense as they are surrendering 33.5 points, 220 yards rushing and just under 400 total yards per game to their opponents this season.
Coach Sam Washington said going into practice this week that his ball club has to avoid the trap, the trap of underestimating and dismissing an 0-6 team because of the Campbell confrontation just around the corner. While the Colonials have been blasted in their 3 home games this season by a combined score of 113-25, The Aggies had better start remembering their old MEAC days against Morgan State. The Aggies were flying high and lost twice in back-to-back years to winless Bears squads. The culprit each time was largely overconfidence all around and paying way too much attention to the O-fer record and not enough on the opponent.
I’m not going to try sugarcoating this week’s match-up. Robert Morris isn’t very good, on either side of the ball but they can have their moments. A&T has got to take the same attitude and approach it did last week against Edward Waters with a little more emphasis because RMU does have FCS talent and that is enough to get your butt beat if you don’t take this game seriously.
The Aggie game plan should be relatively simple. Get the ball early and often to their trio of talented running backs, take advantage of the man matchups on the outside in the passing game and win the special teams war. Look for A&T to come out quickly and continue to develop different aspects of its passing game while the defense will try to bring a lot of pressure with a lot of different looks to confuse the young RMU quarterbacks.
There shouldn’t be any scoreboard watching to create a distraction since this is a 12-noon kick-off and any other game of interest will come late into the afternoon and we all know the Jackson State-Campbell hook-up down in Jackson, MS is going to be eyeballed big time by all concerned.
All that hyperbole over next week won’t be worth spit if A&T doesn’t take care of business in Moon Town. This team has now seemingly taken on the role of being the hunter rather than the hunted and that is a good thing. Flying under the radar isn’t so bad.
N.C. A&T – 38
Robert Morris – 10