GREENSBORO — The nation’s longest winning streak began last year in Boiling Springs, when N.C. A&T played opening night at Gardner-Webb and throttled the Runnin’ Bulldogs 45-3.
And now comes the return trip.
No. 5/6 A&T (2-0), winners of 14 in a row, will host Gardner-Webb (1-0) at 6 p.m. Saturday at the newly named football stadium at the same old corner of Lindsay and Sullivan.
Five things to know headed into this non-conference game:
1. Quarterback, Part I: A&T’s Lamar Raynard, a senior from High Point and last year’s MEAC player of the year, comes in 22-of-54 passing for 205 yards, three touchdowns and an interception in two starts. A&T is 28-0 in games started by Raynard, but the 40.7 completion percentage is shocking for the veteran, who came into the season well over 60 percent. Part of it has been the defenses of Jacksonville State and East Carolina. Part of it has been a new offensive line. Part of it has been drops by receivers. But Raynard remains The Man at A&T, even after backup Kylil Carter’s sterling two-touchdown effort in relief at East Carolina. “The first game, it was protection,” A&T head coach Sam Washington said. “We had a problem blocking those (Jacksonville State) boys. We dropped too many balls (against ECU). The passing game is a rhythm. And if you can’t get into that rhythm, then it’s difficult to throw the football.”
2. Quarterback, Part II: Redshirt freshman Jordan Smith won the job for Gardner-Webb this year, and the rookie was solid in a 52-17 season-opening victory over Division II Limestone. Smith went 14-for-24 passing for 150 yards and in interception in his debut, and the Bulldogs think enough of him to give him jersey No. 9, last worn there by NAIA All-America and national player of the year John Craven from 1991-94. Smith gets help in the backfield from junior running back Jayln Cagle, who ran 20 times for 116 yards and two TDs in the opener.
3. BB&T Stadium: A&T still plays at the same place, but the name has changed. And it’s going to take some getting used to. After 37 years as Aggie Stadium, A&T sold the naming rights to the 21,500-capacity football stadium to Winston-Salem-based bank BB&T for $1.5 million. That comes out to $100,000 per year for the next 15 years. The new signage won’t be in place until the Sept. 22 game against Morgan State, but it’s a done deal — the only such naming-rights deal among the 125 teams in the Football Championship Subdivision.
4. Offensive lines: A&T had to replace four graduated starters up front, and the fifth, All-MEAC junior Marcus Pettiford, moved from right tackle to left tackle. The group remains a work in progress and has been hampered by injuries. Right guard Micah Shaw sat out the East Carolina game, his left foot in a walking boot, and both Pettiford and left guard Macquel Hardy were shaken up against ECU. Gardner-Webb comes in with all five of its O-line starters back from last year, a group that averages 6 feet 3 and 306 pounds per man. Even so, they’ll have their hands full against A&T’s quick defensive linemen.
5. Marquell Cartwright: A&T’s power-running senior tailback is coming off a season of 1,190 rushing yards and 14 TDs, but he has been bottled up in the first two games against tough opponents. Cartwright has 43 carries for 126 yards (2.9 average) and no touchdowns so far. He’s running behind the new offensive line, and look for the Aggies to get him going (and get him comfortable) against Gardner-Webb.