by Sean Donohue
O'KELLY-RIDDICK STADIUM/DURHAM The field rages with excitement as the fierce Aggie-Eagle rivalry meets for the 82nd time in gridiron history. N.C. Central longs for revenge after the teams' last meeting in October of last year where North Carolina A&T took the game 23-17. An overfilled and record-breaking stadium of over 15,173 fans creates an exciting stage for the two teams this thick and humid September night.
The Aggies kick off the game and Central trudges along down the field only to pick up 20 yards of penalties. At fourth down, NCCU's Frankie Cardelle goes for the 45-yard field goal only to have it blocked. Central realizes now that there is some serious competition tonight. A&T moves down the field with enthusiasm and energy as the Eagles struggle to slow them. As the ball moves towards Central's end zone, the Aggies' drive loses steam and Sullivan Shidler misses a 33-yard field goal. With 10:17 still left in the first quarter, the game is scoreless.
The Eagles make less progress this time as they start at their own 21 yard line. Getting nowhere, Cardelle punts it down to the Aggies' 40 yard line. The Aggies fumble and Central recovers. With a cheering crowd of Eagle fans delighted at A&T's mistake, the NCCU offense starts at its own 34 yard line. With a myriad of 1st downs, running back Tim Shankle drives through multiple Aggie players for a touchdown. The score turns 7-0 Central with a kick from Cardelle at 4:08 left in the 1st quarter.
The fierce rivalry is easily seen on the field this humid fall night. Every action and every tackle seems to hit a little harder with nervous tension. Both teams truly want this win tonight and are going to do whatever they can to achieve it.
The situation worsens for the Aggies as they fumble again and NCCU is happy to recover on A&T's 23 yard line. Central's quarterback Michael Johnson shoots a bullet to Decona Roberts for another Eagle touchdown. Cardelle's field goal makes it 14-0 with 2:28 left on the clock.
As A&T attempts to receive the ball, the Aggies fumble once more and Central recovers. With what seems like an unstoppable defense and offense, the Eagles once again come dangerously close to the Aggie end zone. The A&T defensive line manages to hold back NCCU's offense for two downs only to have the Eagles break through and score on Johnson's one-yard run. With the extra point, the score chalks up to a scorching 21-0 NCCU at the end of the first quarter.
With a nice buffer of points on the board, the Central fans are hyped up more than ever for their football stars. The Eagles are having a dominating presence on the field that is continuing to outplay the Aggies in every aspect of the game.
In the start of the 2nd quarter, the A&T offense drives to put their first points on the board. Kicker Sullivan Shidler accomplishes just that with a field goal making it 21-3 Central. The Eagles receive the kickoff and Tony McCord catches and makes an outstanding run to the Aggies' 40 yard line. An enraged A&T defense sacks Johnson for a loss of seven yards on the next play. Refusing to be pushed back, Central continues a mixed running and passing game toward the A&T end zone. The Aggie defense finally is able to stop an Eagle touchdown as an attempted Cardelle field goal goes way left.
Central receives quite the setback as top-receiver Geovonie Irvine is ejected from the game for multiple hits to the face of an Aggie player. An opposing wave of blue and gold fans cheer excitedly as they see an opportunity for their defense to finally put an end to the unstoppable Eagle scoring.
The A&T offense makes some progress down field and finally reaches scoring range against the Eagles. At 7:52 in the second quarter, Mike Mayhew runs the ball for a touchdown. Malik Cromartie blocks Shidler's extra-point attempt and it's 21-9.
The Eagles offense seems eager to increase the score difference between the two teams as they receive the Shidler kickoff. Though Central gets multiple 1st downs, the progress slows as the Eagles approach the Aggie 30. NCCU settles for a 37-yard field goal by Cardelle claiming a 24-9 lead.
With 2:58 left in the 2nd quarter, the Eagle's show some serious muscle with a few walloping hits to the Aggie offense. The Aggie offense retaliates with some nice connections down the field. Mayhew runs the ball to the Central 11, where Ricky Louis runs for the touchdown. Shidler makes the extra point and again it becomes a close game..Central finishes the first half with a 41-yard field goal by Cardelle with 5 seconds left. The score becomes 27-16 NCCU.
The second half starts off strong for both teams as they struggle for control. The defense and offense of both teams hold at a standstill as the fans eagerly watch. The Aggies continue their trend as they fumble the ball and it is recovered by the Eagles. Central inches their way down field with minimal progress. After a slight fumble scare by Central's offense, Cardelle boots it down field. However it seems impossible for the Aggies to hold onto the ball as they suffer another fumble; giving the Eagle's yet another possession. However, with a failed field goal attempt the score sticks.
A&T gets another shot, coming within 20 yards of the Central end zone. However, Shelton Morgan throws an interception and NCCU once again starts its drive down field. After the Eagles take a risk of a fake punt on a 4th down and paying for it, the Aggies gain possession with a turnover on downs. However, A&T's offense is once again stopped and the Aggies are forced to punt. Central has no better luck and after an unsuccessful drive, Cardelle boots as well. The Aggies struggle to slowly make their way up the field. With 51 seconds left, it has become a desperate drive for the A&T team to put some points on the board. The game is sealed as Morgan throws an interception to David Ingram on the final play.
They said it …NCCU coach Mose Rison: “To be able to win this game in front of our home crowd, I'm an awful proud football coach. I'm proud of my football team. I'm proud of all the people that surround this football program. We looked like a football team that was really destined to come out here and win. We said all week in practice that the team that turns over the ball the least amount of times has the greatest opportunity to win. The game played out exactly the way we wanted it to.”
Shankle: “We knew it was going to be a hard game tonight but we played together as a team. We played as one.”
Johnson: “we controlled the game the way we wanted to. We were able to move the ball steadily today, something we've been struggling with. I was playing with a little pain (in my mouth) but there was no way I was going to miss this game”
What does it all mean?
Even with Irvine out of the game, the Eagles are a force to be reckoned with. Whether A&T had a bad night, or Central had a great one, its clear that the NCCU team can and will perform.
Stars of the game
Play of the game
McCord's 40 yard kickoff in the second quarter.
A&T lost 7.
NCCU, Won 1.
A&T at Tennessee State Oct. 2 at 4 p.m.
NCCU vs. Hampton on Oct. 9 at 4 p.m.