Year One Is In The Books. OK, We Get It
By Craig R. Turner
Published: November 20, 2021

As we enter the final weekend of Big South action, the media’s preseason prognostications are proving out to be pretty close on the mark. Defending champion Monmouth and Kennesaw State have been on a collision course for quite some and will meet this weekend in Kennesaw, GA to determine who will take home the title and the conferences’ automatic bid to the FCS playoffs which begin in one week.

Last week Monmouth begin tuning up for its big showdown with a easy 44-7 triumph over Robert Morris. Quarterback Tony Muskett had his second straight four TD passing performance and his third such feat of the year. The Hawks dominated every phase of the game from wire to wire holding RMU to just 158 yards in total offense on the day while racking up 506 yards of their own.

Kennesaw State has squeaked by in a number of conference games this year and its 28-24 win over North Alabama couldn’t have been much closer. After a NAU field goal put the Lions up by three points, The Owls engineered a eight play 70-yard drive that was capped off when sophomore quarterback Xavier Shepherd scored on a 2-yard run with just 56 seconds left on the clock.

North Carolina A&T ventured outside the conference to face this year’s MEAC champion South Carolina State in a big game in Orangeburg, NC. The Aggies overcame a 10-point deficit in just a little over 5 minutes in the third quarter then slated the game away late in the fourth on a brilliant pick six by defensive end Devin Harrell to win it’s second straight on the road 27-17 over the Bulldogs.

Backup quarterback Kingsley Ifedi came off the bench to toss two touchdown passes and Jah-Maine Martin broke loose for 33-yard TD jaunt late in the third quarter which proved to be the game winner. Sophomore flanker Taymon Cook played an instrumental role with a 58-yard catch and run for a TD as well as 156 yards in kickoff returns on special teams.

Charleston Southern and Gardner Webb took two overtimes to settle their issues and the Buccaneers came out on top 32-24. Both teams traded field goals in the first overtime period before CSU quarterback Jack Chambers scored standing up on a read option to get into the end zone and found Ja’Rell Smith open on the mandatory two-point conversion.

Gardner-Webb stalled early in their second possession and was stuffed on a fourth and leass than a yard situation to end the game.

Gardner-Webb out-gained Charleston Southern 475-407, out-rushed the Buccaneers (130-121) and had more first downs (21-19). The Buccaneers’ edge came in the red zone, where they converted 5-of-7 opportunities into points. Gardner-Webb was 1-of-4 in the red zone Saturday afternoon.

Hampton remained tied with North Carolina A&T for third place in the league with its nail biting 27-21 road win over slumping Campbell. Senior quarterback Jett Duffey scored on a 1-yard TD run with just over two minutes remaining in the game.

Campbell’s last-ditch drive produced one first down, but the Pirates forced a fourth-and-16 incompletion from the Camels’ 45 with 49 seconds to go.

This final weekend of the season will feature a championship showdown as Monmouth (7-3, 6-0) travels to Kennesaw State (9-1, 6-0) in the winner take all match-up.

North Carolina A&T (5-5, 3-3) will try to secure its 10th winning season in a row and at least a share of a third place finish in their first year in the Big South when they entertain Gardner Webb (3-7, 1-5) in Greensboro.

Campbell (3-7, 2-4) will head the road up to Robert Morris (3-6, 2-5) in hopes of ditching their 4-game losing streak.

North Alabama (2-8, 2-4) will end out their year against Hampton (5-5, 3-3) in what should be close ball game.

Big South TV Schedule – 11/20/21

12:00 PM Campbell @ Robert Morris ESPN+
12:00 PM Charleston Southern @ #1 Georgia SEC Network+, ESPN+
1:00 PM Gardner-Webb @ North Carolina A&T ESPN3
1:00 PM North Alabama @ Hampton ESPN+
1:00 PM Monmouth @ Kennesaw State ESPN+

Gardner Webb is completing its first full season under the tutelage of one of the better young offensive minded coaches in the FCS in Trey Lamb. Lamb most recently served as offensive coordinator at Ohio Valley Conference at his alma mater Tennessee Tech.

Tech scored more than 30 points five times in 2019 and finished second in the Ohio Valley Conference in scoring offense (29.0 ppg) and offensive plays (893). The Golden Eagles ranked third in the conference in pass offense and pass efficiency, fourth in rushing offense – and led the OVC in time of possession.

The Bulldogs currently rest at 3-7 overall and just 1-5 in conference play but the record is quite deceiving. GWU has lost a close 30-25 game against FBS Georgia Southern in their opener and their last three games – in the closing seconds on the road to Kennesaw (by 4) and two straight with overtime losses to Hampton and Charleston Southern (2OTs).

Despite those heartbreaking defeats, GWU is a rapidly improving football team under Lamb and should become a major factor in the near future in Big South as Kennesaw and North Alabama head to the Atlantic Sun Conference next season.

The Bulldog “Air Raid” offense is centered around junior quarterback Bailey Fisher (5-11,207) who has thrown for 2,073 yards and 15 touchdowns hitting on nearly 60% of his passing attempts this season.

His main targets have been Justin Franklin (5-9, 175,Fr.), Narii Gaither (5-10,177, Jr.) and junior transfer T. J. Luther (6-1,186). This trio of fine receivers have combined for 91 catches for 1189 yards and 11 TDs.

When GWU runs the football it is also been Gaither who does the damage. The shifty, do everything “waterbug” type tailback has rushed for 885 yards and seven TDs and has averaged 5.7 yards per carry.

Doing the blocking up front is an offensive line that averages 296 pounds per man and the right side is where excels behind sophomores Mike Brooks (6-3,320, OG) and tackle Clayton Frady (6-5,295).

Defensively, GWU has been great statistically speaking but have excelled in forcing turnovers which have kept the Bulldogs within striking distance in nearly every game it has played this year.

Ty French (6-3,233,So.) is a standout All-Big South defensive end and he will be flanked by fellow down linemen Shai Thomas (6-2,271, Sr.), Janathan Turner (6-3, 306, Sr.) and freshman Willie Harris (6-1,270).

The linebackers in the 4-2-5 set will William McRainey (6-0,217,So.) and Honus Wagner (6-0,225) while the rover will be grad T. J. Comstock (5-11,195).

At the corners will be a pair of freshmen in T.J. Jones (5-10,170) and Jamari Nelson (5-11,160) and the safties will be a pair of juniors in Malachi Buckner (6-1,206) and Jamari Brown (5-11,198).

The Aggies will be closing out their 2021 season and their first in the Big South this Saturday in Truist Stadium. It’s been quite a learning experience – for the staff, the team, and the fans and everyone connected to A&T football.

While this program has been built over the years to not only compete but to pretty much dominate the scene in the MEAC and HBCU football in general, the BSC has turned out to be a much different animal than even the most ardent A&T football aficionado could have anticipated. My observations on year one are as follows.

The two year layoff from competition because of the pandemic had a very telling effect as far as conditioning and game readiness through much of the early season coupled with an incredibly long list of weekly injuries to key personnel throughout the year.

The change of leagues had an impact on the coaching staff as well as A&T has had to transition from a league that was predicated around “out talenting” the opposition to a league where emphasis on schemes, in-game adjustments, and oppositional research preparation take precedence over front loaded rosters.

The changes that will be need to be made in the off season doesn’t necessarily mean that there has to be a change in the basic A&T football philosophy but more so in the approach used to meet and surpass it’s own prescribed standard of performance.
Football among Big South teams is not predictable. The talent level between the two conferences are roughly even but how that talent is utilized substantially different.

The strength of play that this league has demonstrated itself to be far more fluid, innovative, consistently at a higher level each week and coaches are more receiving of calculated risk taking than what it ever was in the MEAC. Conservative and boring it is not.

There will have to be a lot more time devoted to the teaching aspect, off season film study, and big concentration on recognition and situational scenarios and aside from the usual fundamental position technique(s) and repetition until, at the very least, both coaches and players become more comfortable and accustomed to the BSC style of play and their programs.

As far as the season finale goes, the Aggies will be saying good-bye to 12 seniors this Saturday who came into a winning program as freshmen and have tasted their share of championships and have a handful full of rings to show for it.

There’s no reason to believe even though this season which has had its peaks, valleys, bumps in the road and hasn’t quite gone the way anyone had anticipated back in August, there’s plenty to play for and going out with a winning record and winning three in a row would be a huge confidence builder going to next season.

The last hurrah for 2021 should be an impressive one. Here’s to the seniors. Thanks for all the great memories, fellas. It’s your show now.


N.C. A&T – 38

Gardner Webb – 14

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