There must be something in the air around the Triad this fall — and no, I’m not talking about the smog rolling in from the mountains due to wildfires last week.
Quite a few college teams met and even exceeded expectations in highly successful seasons, namely NC A&T University’s football team, Wake Forest University men’s soccer and the Winston-Salem State University Rams football squad.
First, let’s look at the Aggies.
Greensboro’s blue-and-gold bulldogs may have dropped the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title game against perennial rival NC Central University on Nov. 19, but they must not be too down in the dumps over it. Fact of the matter is, A&T has delivered one of the most solid campaigns in program history and made a name for itself as one of the best teams in HBCU football for 2016.
The 9-2 Aggies relied on high-octane offense this fall, averaging 37.5 points per game, consistently outscoring their opponents by more than two touchdowns.
Perhaps the brightest star on this fearsome offense is firecracker Tarik Cohen, an All-American running back and Walter Payton Award candidate for best offensive player in NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. Over this season, Cohen averaged an astonishing 138 rushing yards per game, 7.6 yards per handoff and 18 dashes into the end zone. And that’s just his ground game: Cohen, an adept receiver, also tallied 338 receiving yards and an additional TD reception. He may be small at 5-foot-6, but he’s one to watch.
Head coach Rod Broadway has also garnered plenty of attention. The sixth-year leader of the Aggies qualified as a finalist for the Eddie Robinson FCS Coach of the Year Award. The consideration comes deservedly; Broadway has done a lot to rebuild a flagging program into a powerhouse. No matter what, he must take pride that, under his leadership, A&T recorded its first victory over a Division-I Football Bowl Subdivision team on Sept. 10 against Kent State University in a quadruple-overtime, 39-36 slugfest.
This tremendous season has led to A&T’s first-ever at-large bid in the NCAA FCS playoffs. The team has played in four previous tournaments, but not since 2003.
One hitch may disrupt the Aggies’ plans: As of this writing, it’s unclear whether starting quarterback Lamar Raynard, who has missed the past two games, will play on Saturday at Richmond University. However, backup QB Oluwafemi Bamiro stepped in to finish the job against Kent State and later won at Delaware State University, 45-14, on Nov. 12.
Unfortunately for another Triad team, postseason hopes have already extinguished. But their remarkable efforts deserve recognition.
The Winston-Salem State University Rams claimed the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association football title, going 9-2 like the Aggies but remaining perfect in conference play. They clinched their final game in a relatively close matchup against Bowie State University in Salem, Va. on Nov. 12.
Like A&T, they couldn’t have achieved what they did without a star running back.
Redshirt sophomore Kerrion Moore set a CIAA Championship game record with 177 yards carried. His 68-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter proved to be his most sensational of the game, pushing the Rams to an insurmountable 16-point lead; Moore also garnered MVP honors.
Thanks partly to their conference crown, Winston-Salem State earned a No. 7 seed in the Division II FCS tournament, traveling to Long Island University-Post on Nov. 19.
After both teams scored two touchdowns in the first quarter, the undefeated Pioneers posted stifling defense in the second quarter, holding the visiting Rams to a field goal while putting 20 more points on the board.
The Rams refused to lie down, though. In the second half, they battled back and outscored the Pioneers 24-14, with the defense shutting down LIU-Post in the fourth quarter.
But it wasn’t enough — the final score, 48-41, favored the home team, and the Pioneers remained lossless.
Across town from Bowman Grey Stadium, the Wake Forest Demon Deacons continued their startling dominance in the world of collegiate men’s soccer.
At this point, Wake has put up a phenomenal 16-2-3 record. Both losses were one-goal shutouts, first against St. Louis University at home on Aug. 26, then at Clemson University on Sept. 30.
The Deacs would soon have their revenge against Clemson, though.
They steamrolled through the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament and met the Tigers at the finals in Charleston, SC on Nov. 13. There, Wake pounded Clemson 3-1 for the ACC title.
Last year, the Deacons claimed the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Championship, yet suffered a heartbreaking loss at home against a surging No. 8-seeded Stanford University Cardinal. This year, they slipped a bit in the rankings. They’re now the No. 2 overall seed. Such placement in the bracket set them up with a first-round bye and home advantage for their first two games.
Coastal Carolina University traveled to Winston-Salem on Sunday after squeezing past Radford University in the first round. For their efforts, the Chanticleers earned the privilege of getting shut out by the Demon Deacons, 2-0.
Senior midfielder Jacori Hayes recorded the decisive goal in the 21st minute of the game with assistance from forward Ema Twumasi; that score marked Hayes’ eighth goal of the season. Junior midfielder Luis Argudo, a transfer from Elon University, added insult to injury after netting the second goal 41 minutes later following an open-field steal.
Wake Forest next hosts the Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville Cougars on Sunday.
To the Aggies and Deacs, the best of luck. Bring it home for the Triad.