The Aggie-Eagle rivalry is alive and well.
When North Carolina A&T and North Carolina Central meet on Saturday in Durham at O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium, it will be the third-straight year the teams will decide the MEAC championship.
The previous two years, the Aggies and the Eagles had to share the title.
This year the winner will be the undisputed champion.
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For the Aggies (9-1, 7-0), it begins with All-America running back Tarik Cohen, from Bunn, who leads FCS in rushing touchdowns with 17 and is second with 1,436 rushing yards.
“He has the ability to flip the field with just a handoff,” said Eagles third-year head coach Jerry Mack. “There’s no great scheme that’s going to automatically stop him. You have to be fundamentally sound.”
Cohen has a solid offensive line, led by the reigning MEAC Offensive Lineman of the Year, left tackle Brandon Parker. Continuity is key as all five linemen have started every game this year.
Last year however, the Eagles defense held Cohen in check for the most part as he had 112 yards rushing with most of that coming on two big runs.
“If we get a hat on a hat, Tarik can make some plays,” said A&T head coach Rod Broadway, the former NCCU coach in his sixth season with the Aggies. “If not, then they’ll handle us like last year.”
North Carolina Central (8-2, 7-0) also likes to run the football and does it effectively, averaging close to 161 yards per game. Redshirt sophomore Ramone Simpson has 118 carries for 615 yards and five touchdowns. Redshirt sophomore Dorrel McClain, of Panther Creek, had 167 yards rushing against the vaunted Aggie defense. He has been slowed by injury this year but still has managed to average 4.4 yards per carry and four touchdowns.
Eagles quarterback Malcolm Bell is a threat to run and pass. Bell leads the MEAC in total offense with 242 yards per game. He has carried the ball 99 times for 413 yards and seven touchdowns. He is also completing 61 percent of his passes for 2,007 yards, 15 touchdowns but has thrown 11 interceptions.
“He’s a great quarterback, keeps his composure and has great pocket presence,” said Broadway. “He’s outstanding.”
The Aggies have a stout rush defense, but have some holes in the pass game. Though they lead the MEAC in total defense, it’s an imbalance; they are No. 1 against the run, giving up just shy of 77 yards per game, but giving up a league-leading 240.1 passing yards per game.
Mack knows the magnitude of this year’s game.
“Nothing else matters more than trying to put a great plan together to beat North Carolina A&T.”
N.C. A&T at N.C. Central
When: 2 p.m. Saturday
Where: O’Kelley-Riddick Stadium, Durham