NC A&T, NC Central meet for MEAC title
(STATS) - North Carolina A&T and North Carolina Central have shared the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title in each of the past two seasons. On Saturday, one of them will be the outright champion.
The ninth-ranked Aggies make the short 55-mile trip from Greensboro to take on the No. 24 Eagles in Durham in a winner-take-all season finale with a trip to the Celebration Bowl on the line.
North Carolina A&T (9-1) has won all seven of its conference games following its only loss, 58-21 at FBS member Tulsa on Sept. 17. North Carolina Central (8-2) is also unbeaten in seven MEAC contests and has won eight in a row overall, leading to the program entering the STATS FCS Top 25 for the first time Monday.
That means there can be only one MEAC champion after the Aggies and Eagles were part of a five-way tie in 2014 before both shared the title with Bethune-Cookman last season. North Carolina A&T won the tiebreaker in 2015 and went on to beat Southwestern Athletic Conference champion Alcorn State 41-34 in the inaugural Celebration Bowl.
The Eagles have won the past two meetings in this series - both in the season finale - to earn a share of the MEAC title.
"It's going to be a big one," said North Carolina A&T's Rod Broadway, a finalist for the STATS Eddie Robinson Award as FCS Coach of the Year. "We're going up against a 7-0 team and they're our biggest rival. We have to be better prepared to play well."
The Eagles have managed to beat the Aggies twice in a row despite Tarik Cohen combining for 315 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Cohen, a finalist for the STATS FCS Walter Payton Award as Offensive Player of the Year, is second in the FCS with 1,436 yards and 17 TDs on the ground.
The senior recorded his fourth 200-yard game of the season last Saturday, rushing 13 times for 221 yards - an average of 17 per carry - and two scores in North Carolina A&T's 45-14 win at Delaware State.
North Carolina Central does most of its damage through the air. The Eagles lead the MEAC with 225 passing yards per game behind redshirt senior Malcolm Bell, who tops the league with 2,007 yards and 15 passing TDs and is tied for second with seven rushing scores.
North Carolina A&T also has a star quarterback in redshirt sophomore Lamar Raynard, who ranks first in the MEAC in completion percentage (64.6) and pass efficiency (140.8 rating) and second behind Bell in passing TDs (14).
Both squads have solid receiving corps. The Aggies are led by senior Denzel Keyes and freshman Elijah Bell, who have combined for 15 TD catches, while senior LaVontis Smith and sophomore Jalen Wilkes have five each for the Eagles.
"I think everybody's getting what they always wanted, they're gonna get an outright champion this year," said North Carolina Central coach and Eddie Robinson Award finalist Jerry Mack. "Everything's on the table and we want to be greedy this year. We want to have a chance to take an outright championship and go to a bowl game, so it's right there before us."