September 27, 2016

(STATS) - After suffering a blowout road loss to an FBS opponent nearly two weeks ago, North Carolina A&T has switched its focus to winning three straight Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference titles for the first time.

That quest begins Thursday night when the 22nd-ranked Aggies host a Hampton team that opened its conference slate with a big victory over one of its rivals.

North Carolina A&T (2-1) earned a share of the MEAC championship in 2014 for the school's first title in 11 years, and the Aggies again won the MEAC last season to give them back-to-back conference championships for the first time since 1991 and '92.

They finished the 2015 season with a 41-34 victory over Alcorn State in the inaugural Celebration Bowl and opened this year by rolling to a 62-0 win over Division II program St. Augustine's on Sept. 3. Next up for the Aggies was a visit to Kent State on Sept. 10, and they pulled out a wild 39-36 upset in four overtimes to record the program's first-ever win over an FBS team.

North Carolina A&T got another shot at an FBS program in its last game Sept. 17 at Tulsa, but things didn't go as well. A pair of blocked punts and two interceptions - one that was returned for a touchdown - in the first 20 minutes did the Aggies in as they went on to lose 58-21.

"We had four turnovers that led to them scoring points," coach Rod Broadway said. " ... Basically, we put ourselves in a hole that you can't put yourselves in against a good football team. You can't do that against any team. You can't overcome those things.

"It was a mismatch, but hopefully we can learn from it, get better from it and grow from having to play people like this. That's the positive we've got to take from it."

The Aggies figure to take their frustration out on Hampton (1-2, 1-0), though the Pirates used a 24-point third quarter to beat Howard 34-7 in the Nation's Football Classic at RFK Stadium on Sept. 17 in their last contest.

"I've said it a number of times, there's not a lot of difference between a lot of teams in this league," Broadway said. "Usually a lot of games come down to who makes the fewest mistakes and who is able to protect the football."

While Hampton's win over Howard came at a neutral site, it has dropped 25 of its last 32 true road games. North Carolina A&T, meanwhile, is 24-5 at home since Broadway took over in 2011.

The Aggies have won the last two meetings by a combined score of 76-45, but the Pirates held a 14-7 halftime lead at North Carolina A&T in 2014 and last season's meeting in Hampton was tied 31-all early in the fourth quarter.

"We can play with these guys," Pirates coach Connell Maynor said. "It's going to be a battle, we're going to come and fight, we're going to compete for four quarters and we've got to make more plays than them and make less mistakes than them. ... You've got to play a perfect game when playing those guys."

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