(STATS) - North Carolina A&T, North Carolina Central and South Carolina State have been involved in the last three Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championships. That trend figures to continue this year with the season winding down.
The run began in 2013 when the Bulldogs shared the title with Bethune-Cookman. All three teams were part of a five-way tie for the championship in 2014 before the Aggies and Eagles shared the crown with Bethune-Cookman last season.
This year, No. 11 North Carolina A&T (7-1, 5-0) and North Carolina Central (6-2, 5-0) lead the way with South Carolina State (3-4, 3-1) sitting in third place.
The Bulldogs had a chance to enter Saturday's visit to the Aggies with a 4-0 MEAC record, but they lost 28-26 at Hampton (4-4, 4-2) last weekend. South Carolina State had won 13 of the previous 14 meetings with North Carolina A&T before the Aggies came away with a 9-6 road victory last season on a late field goal.
"We've got a challenge ahead of us because South Carolina State's pretty good," Aggies coach Rod Broadway said. "We've got to prepare and on top of that they've had our number here, they've worn us out ... so we've got to get better and we need to play better against these guys."
Having five-time reigning MEAC offensive player of the week Tarik Cohen in the backfield should help the Aggies. During that five-week stretch, Cohen rushed for 954 yards and 11 touchdowns while averaging 8.6 yards per carry. He ran for 200 yards against Norfolk State on Oct. 6 to break the MEAC career rushing record, which now stands at 5,199 yards.
Cohen, second in the FCS with 1,168 rushing yards and tied for the lead with 14 TDs on the ground, is the 26th running back in FCS history to rush for more than 5,000 yards and the 10th FCS player to record four straight 1,000-yard seasons.
However, he's been held to 169 yards and no touchdowns on 51 carries in three meetings with South Carolina State.
"We do recognize where he's at," Bulldogs coach Buddy Pough said. "Anytime a guy has had the success that he's had in this league, you better have some kind of idea how to give a guy a little extra attention that way, but besides that it's been maybe a freak kind of circumstance for us. ... Let's hope it doesn't happen this time."
North Carolina Central comes off its bye and heads out on the road Saturday to face Delaware State (0-8, 0-5), which has lost 23 of its last 24 games. The Eagles have won six straight since opening the season with road losses to Duke and Western Michigan, which is 9-0 and ranked 17th in the FBS.
North Carolina A&T visits North Carolina Central on Nov. 19 in the regular-season finale for both teams, a matchup that could see them each enter undefeated in the MEAC. Eagles coach Jerry Mack, though, isn't looking that far ahead.
"We've been in this situation before the last couple of years," Mack said. "We always usually play pretty well down the stretch after we've had some rest and as the focus continues to increase because they can kind of see that the end is near and some of their dreams and goals that they've set at the beginning of the season start to become more realistic during this time of the season.
"We don't really worry about down the road. The only thing we know is Delaware State is a road game, we gotta go to an environment that is unfamiliar to us and we have to do a great job of trying to come away with a win in that environment."