Hampton and North Carolina A&T’s football teams square off Saturday, Oct. 28 during the Pirate’s homecoming celebration. As the only HBCUs in the Coastal Athletic Association, the game means more to players and fans alike than just an intra-conference showdown.
“We know it’s their homecoming, so there’s going to be a lot of excitement around seeing the two HBCUs in the conference match up,” said Vincent Brown, head coach for the North Carolina A&T Aggies.
Both teams are currently in free fall with little hope of turning their seasons around. The Aggies will enter Saturday with a 1-6 record as two, three-game losing streaks sandwich their lone victory against Norfolk State.
The Pirates are also on a three game skid, including two recent devastating losses to Monmouth and Delaware. Hampton’s defense has allowed 108 points in the last two weeks, while the offense put up a measly 13 points combined.
Led by true freshman Kevin White, North Carolina A&T’s offense consistently charts at the bottom of the CAA. They are last in scoring offense, total offensive touchdowns, passing efficiency, passing completion percentage, passing yards, passing touchdowns, and more. The Aggies rushing offense, ranked eighth, is the only positive aspect of the Aggies’ scoring attack.
Their defense, however, will present problems for the Pirates.
“There’s been a lot of games where the defense has kept them in,” said Robert Prunty, head coach for Hampton. “Coach Brown’s guys play hard… those guys are out there fighting. You can clearly see week in and week out that they’re prepared.” This was especially true last week as the Aggies remained within striking distance of Richmond solely because of their defense.
While the Aggie rushing defense ranks last in the conference, their pass defense is the second-best in the CAA. Given the Pirate’s inability to move the ball through the air the past few weeks, North Carolina A&T will have full focus on shoring up their defense against the run.
Fortunately for the Pirates, their rushing attack is the most consistent part of their offense. No matter who lines up in the backfield, Hampton continually churns out elite rushing numbers.
They currently average 220 yards on the ground per game on the highest efficiency in the conference. For example, both Hampton and the University of Albany have 278 rushing attempts. Albany has recorded 916 yards from those attempts, while the Pirates accumulated 1,540 yards on the same amount of carries.
It’s important to remember that football is a sport with three individual phases: offense, defense, and special teams. On one side, the Pirates have continued to struggle on special teams, especially in their punting game. Last week, they gave up a touchdown on what can only be described as a bone-headed play.
On the other side, Aggie punt returner and receiver Taymon Cooke was named the FedEx Ground FCS National Special Teams Player of the Week. Against Richmond, he returned two punts for 106 yards, including a 91-yard touchdown.
Prunty is well aware of Cooke’s game-breaking speed and returning ability.
“If you notice that #18 on those returns, he shows up a lot and he’s leading the nation in kick returns,” he said.
These two teams last met up in 2021 in Hampton’s Armstrong Stadium. The Aggies won in dominant fashion, crushing the Pirates 30-9. However, this matchup takes place during an HBCU homecoming, and Brown recognizes the threat of distractions.
“This is a football game first and foremost,” he said. “We have to find a way to come away with a win.”