North Carolina A&T Aggies returned two interceptions for touchdowns and the Howard Bison committed a season-high 17 penalties as the Aggies defeated the Bison, 38-10 in a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) game on Oct. 13 at Aggies Stadium in Raleigh, N.C.
The loss snapped a three-game win streak for Howard and put them in a tie for second place in the conference.
North Carolina A&T (3-4 overall, 1-2 in the MEAC) set the tone early on its first possession when junior wide receiver Ricky Lewis capped off a 68-yard drive with an 18-yard scamper with just 2:47 off the clock.
The Aggies used a mixture of running plays and short passes in the flat to move the chains and keep the Bison defense off balance.
"The Aggies had a great plan," said Howard senior linebacker Keith Pough. "I give their offense much respect. They executed and they were on all cylinders. Once they got it going, it was hard to stop."
Howard (4-2 overall, 3-1 MEAC) answered with a drive of its own, covering 75 yards in 11 plays and using almost four minutes off the clock with sophomore running back Aquanius Freeman finishing off the drive with a 5-yard touchdown run.
The two teams exchanged turnovers from that point until the Aggies embarked on a 92-yard drive that ended with senior running back Mike Mayhew bolting in from three yards out to make it, 14-7. Howard would come back to make the score 14-10 at the half on a 37-yard field goal by kicker Parker Munoz, but the Aggies long drive seemed to leave an impression and give them a boost of confidence.
"They did a great job; they were very aggressive and we didn't show up today," said Howard Coach Gary Harrell.
N.C. A&T extended its lead to 17-10 early in the third quarter on a 31-yard field goal by kicker Zach Cimaglia.
From there, the Aggies turned to their defense, primarily junior linebacker D'Vonte Grant, who proved to be the difference maker. With the Bison trying to stay within striking range, Grant picked off a sophomore quarterback Greg McGhee pass and returned it 40 yards to up the margin to 24-10.
The Bison, who were ranked among the least penalized team in the conference, were called for 17 penalties, the most since 2007. Time after time, drives were stymied by untimely penalties, mostly holding calls on the offense.
"The penalties were a big factor today," explained Harrell. "We have to do a better job. We need to be more disciplined. We have to do a better job of handling the ball. We can't win with that many penalties."
With the game still in the balance, the Aggies put the game away. Redshirt junior Kindle Lewis scored from 5 yards out at the 9:35 mark of the fourth quarter and then junior safety D'Vonte Graham closed it out with his second interception return of the game, this one a 58 yarder for a TD.
"It doesn't change our goals," said Harrell, who faces rival Morgan State next Saturday in what could be an elimination game for the loser. "We have to go back to the drawing board."
Howard was able to amass 435 yards of total offense, including 201 on the ground. But that was negated by a combination of bend-but-don't-break defense, turnovers and penalties.
"We just had too many turnovers," said McGhee, who accounted for almost 300 yards of total offense. "The offense carried out their assignments, but we did a poor job of executing. You have to give their defense credit."