NORFOLK, Va. — Holding on to the ball was a problem for N.C. A&T and Norfolk State on Saturday night at Price Stadium. The Aggies gave up 17 points off of turnovers and despite a second-half rally, came up short in their MEAC opener, losing 27-21.
It was an evening when a surprise shower soaked the field to start the fourth quarter, a respite from the humidity of late afternoon when many Spartans suffered cramps. That proved just something else for Norfolk State to overcome along with four fumbles, a blocked punt and a momentum swing after the Aggies rang up 14 third-quarter points.
Close games, said Norfolk State coach Pete Adrian, whose team won six games in 2007 decided by eight points or fewer, are “our trademark. You overcome all the things we did in this game, it makes us a better football team.”
Norfolk State (2-1, 1-0) was better Saturday largely due to DeAngelo Branche. The sophomore had his best day in a Spartan uniform, breaking tackle after tackle thanks to his superior speed and shifty lateral movement. Branche accounted for 180 yards on 30 rushes. The blot on the evening for Branche was fumbling twice, losing one.
“I was so hot, soaking wet,” Branche said. “I’m not making excuses, but the ball just slipped.”
Justin Castellat’s 33-yard field goal put the Spartans on top 27-7 with 13:19 left in the first half. The 61st annual Fish Bowl, played in front of 12,632, looked to be in the books for Norfolk State.
But the Aggies hung around — even without earning a score following Jeremy Wicker’s fumble on what looked to be an incomplete pass by Dennis Brown. Instead officials ruled that Brown tossed a lateral to Wicker, who fumbled it on the Norfolk State 23 with
10:17 left in the third quarter.
A&T (2-1, 0-1) put together an eight-play, 56-yard drive later in the quarter. The capper: a 17-yard post pattern from Carlton Fears to Giorgio Lowrance for a touchdown.
Four plays later, Brown fumbled at the Norfolk State 46, and the ideal field position was gold for a grinder like Michael Ferguson, on pace to become A&T’s all-time leading rusher, against a defense that appeared to be wilting in the languid conditions. A second effort earned him the score on third down with 1:56 left in the quarter.
A seven-play Spartan drive didn’t pay off in points to start the fourth, and Norfolk State looked to be in trouble when Billy Rudd’s punt was blocked with the Aggies recovering at the 36.
But the Norfolk State defense did not allow the Aggies a first down in the final quarter. Deon Norris and Anthony Taylor each had sacks in the period. What looked to be a perfect pass play from Fears to Lowrance was incomplete when Whitehead smacked the receiver brutally, causing Lowrance’s helmet to pop off downfield.
Brown came through in the end, too, when it looked as if Norfolk State would have to give the ball back to A&T one last time. Instead, on fourth-and-5 from the Aggie 32, Brown rolled right and connected with Jamar Johnson for the first down that allowed the Spartans to retain possession and run out the clock.
N.C. A&T 7 0 14 0 — 21
Norfolk State 7 17 3 0 — 27
Norf—Volcin recovered fumble in end zone (Castellat kick)
NCAT—Ferguson 3 run (Houston kick)
Norf—Hedgeman 6 run (Castellat kick)
Norf—FG Castellat 43
Norf—Walker 22 pass from Brown (Castellat kick)
Norf—FG Castellat 33
NCAT—Ferguson 1 run (Houston kick)
NCAT—Lowrance 17 pass from Fears (Houston kick)
N.C. A&T Norfolk State
First downs 14 16
Rushes-yards 39-76 43-249
Passing 214 105
Comp-Att-Int 14-29-1 8-23-0
Return Yards 42 0
Punts-Avg. 5-38.4 5-37.0
Fumbles-Lost 4-3 4-3
Penalties-Yards 6-45 8-65
Time of Possession 31:10 28:50
RUSHING—N.C. A&T, Ferguson 25-124, Kearney 1-5, Cosby 1-2, Dawson 1-2, Byrd 1-(minus 3), Fears 4-(minus 6), Miller 5-(minus 21), Team 1-(minus 27). Norfolk St., Branche 30-180, Brown 5-37, Hedgeman 5-31, Ja.Johnson 1-4, Team 1-(minus 1), Wicker 1-(minus 2).
PASSING—N.C. A&T, Miller 9-20-1-142, Fears 5-9-0-72. Norfolk St., Brown 8-23-0-105.
RECEIVING—N.C. A&T, Lowrance 6-115, Byrd 3-51, Christen 2-14, Dawson 2-14, Miles 1-20. Norfolk St., Walker 3-45, Ja.Johnson 3-26, Wicker 1-20, Dickerson 1-14.