Still smarting over one that got away, North Carolina A&T regroups

One-win North Carolina A&T was in the middle of its best defensive game of the year, having pushed Florida A&M to overtime.

Just like that, the Rattlers won 22-19 on Nov. 6, as FAMU running back Philip Sylvester burst through for a 14-yard touchdown.

A much, much-needed bye has followed for North Carolina A&T (1-9, 1-6 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference), giving walking wounded like running backs Mike Mayhew and Dominique Drake time to recover.

“Thank God for a week off,” North Carolina A&T coach Alonzo Lee said. “Ten straight games, that’s any team’s nightmare. We’re a little banged up and dinged up. Hopefully during this bye week, we’ll be able to rehab them and get them ready for the next game against South Carolina State.”

A&T faces the second-place Bulldogs at home on Nov. 20. That’s perhaps why, for all the benefits, there remains some soul searching.

The Aggies, admittedly, had other opportunities against Florida A&M, times when receivers dropped the ball — or when North Carolina A&T’s quarterback made critical errors. (Rattlers linebacker Brandon Hepburn pulled down two interceptions.) The Aggies’ defense held FAMU to a pair of second-half field goals. But penalties kept halting their progress: A&T’s final drive before the half was slowed by an illegal use of hands flag. Its overtime drive stalled on a delay-of-game call.

In the end, the Aggies couldn’t find a way to stop surprise starter Austin Trainor, a third-string redshirt freshman inserted with just three games left in the season after torching the No. 2 defense in the country during a spirited practice session. Trainor completed 16-of-35 passes, and threw a touchdown — though he was also forced into two interceptions.

Still, despite their mightly struggles, North Carolina A&T initially jumped out to an early 13-7 lead in the first quarter, after a 5-yard touchdown run by senior quarterback George Hines. That’s something to build on as the Aggies prepare for South Carolina State, which could be vying for an at-large FCS playoff bid by the time A&T retakes the field.

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