Aggies fall to Terriers in first-round playoffs

SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Any hopes North Carolina A&T had for a national championship ended Saturday, Nov. 30, in Spartanburg, S.C. Led by quarterback Jeff Zolman, the third-ranked Terriers of Wofford College ran past the 19th-ranked Aggies by a score of 31-10. Zolman led all rushers with 141 yards on 17 carries and two touchdowns. Fresman running back Kevious Johnson added 106 rushing yards for the Terriers. The Wofford College offense racked up 386 yards on the ground and controlled the clock during the game-deciding second half. A&T came into the game ranked eighth nationally against the run. However, the option attack and misdirection running style of Wofford’s backfield kept the “Blue Death” defensive unit off-balance all afternoon. The ground game was so effective the Terriers finished the game without completing a single pass. Leading 10-0 at halftime, Wofford began the third quarter with a long drive and a touchdown run, widening the lead to 17-0. A&T responded on the next drive when quarterback Orrick Watkins scored on a five-yard run around the right end to cut the lead to 17-7 with just under five minutes left in the third quarter.It was the first touchdown on offense for A&T since Nov. 15 against Hampton. Minutes later, A&T’s Charles Harper recovered a Wofford fumble near midfield. However, the Wofford defense tightened and the Aggies were unable to fully capitalize on the turnover. Yonnick Matthews kicked a 25-yard field goal to cut the Terriers lead to 17-10 and briefly swing the momentum in favor of A&T. On the ensuing possession, Zolman directed Wofford on a time-consuming 17-play drive, culminating in his four-yard touchdown run to stretch the lead to 24-10. A&T failed to get anything going on the next offensive possession, and Zolman added another touchdown scamper from five yards out late in the game for the final score. After the game Aggie head coach George Small acknowledged the Wofford offense, along with his own team’s mistakes, had led to the defeat. Matthews missed a field goal in the first half and Watkins threw an interception in the end zone on the Aggies first drive of the game. The A&T offense lost the turnover battle and the defense was unable to shut down the run on several critical fourth downs in the second half. “We didn’t play assignment football,” Small said. “It’s that simple.” The first-round playoff loss marked the end of an unexpectedly successful season for A&T, which finished the 2002 campaign with a 4-8 record. The 2003 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champions were picked to finish sixth in the MEAC this year, but went unbeaten in the conference until the regular season finale against South Carolina State. A large portion of the team will be back next year and Small is looking forward to improving on the 10-3 record the team finished with this year. “You go back, you learn from your mistakes and get better,” Small said at the postgame news conference. “You continue to get better.”