ORANGEBURG, S.C. – When quarterback Kylil Carter stepped on the field at Oliver C. Dawson Stadium in 2015 as a freshman and threw one of the most historic touchdown passes in North Carolina A&T football history in a win over the South Carolina State Bulldogs, very few people had ever heard his name.
When Carter walked off the field at Oliver C. Stadium on Saturday for the final time in his career, it is assumed everyone associated with S.C. State would rather forget his name from now until the end of time.
Carter recorded career highs in passing yards (267), completions (21) and pass attempts (38) and he threw a touchdown pass to lead the Aggies to a crucial 22-20 win over the Bulldogs. The win puts the Aggies (6-2, 4-1 MEAC) in a first-place tie for the conference lead with Bethune-Cookman. Florida A&M is undefeated in the conference but are not eligible for the MEAC championship or the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl that comes along with it because of sanctions.
Included in Carter’s great day was a crucial third-down completion to senior Elijah Bell that iced the game late in the fourth quarter.
“It’s a great feeling to come out of here with a win today and to be able to say we never lost to them because they’re a great program,” said Carter. “I’m glad my guys played well and were able to keep the streak going.”
The Aggies did win their fifth straight over the Bulldogs (5-3, 3-2 MEAC). It was Carter who as the third-string quarterback on the Aggies roster came off the bench against the Bulldogs in 2015 because one quarterback ahead of him on the depth chart was injured and the other was ineffective. Carter threw a game-winning touchdown pass to Khris Gardin to help the Aggies escape with a 9-6 win that eventually propelled them to the first-ever Celebration Bowl.
On Saturday, the Aggies got the ball back at the SCSU 49-yard line leading 22-20 with 2:31 remaining in the game. The Bulldogs still had two timeouts remaining, so the Aggies needed a first down to ice the game.
Faced with 3rd-and-5, the Aggies decided not to run the ball and force SCSU to call its final timeout. Instead, Carter dropped back and tossed a dart to the Aggies all-time leading receiver in Bell who walled off his defender and made the catch for the key first down. It was Bell’s 11th reception of the day as he finished the afternoon with 107 yards receiving. It was his eighth career 100-yard receiving game.
“South Carolina State is a physical football team, so to come out with a win in their house is incredible. We had a better chance of getting that first down by throwing the ball. Bell ran a great route and I just got him the ball,” Carter said about the crucial play.
N.C. A&T head coach Sam Washington said the thought going into the play was to take what the S.C. State defense was willing to give them.
“We wanted to see how many they would put in the box,” said Washington. “We had another play called if what we saw was not what we wanted; we could check out of it. Fortunately, we got what we were looking for. We ran the drag and got what we needed.”
The needed win didn’t come easy. The Aggies found themselves down 10-0 midway through the second quarter. Bulldogs quarterback Tyrece Nick made a critical mistake which helped the Aggies get on track. Nick held on to the ball too long in his end zone eventually getting sacked by sophomore Kyin Howard for a safety.
The play propelled the Aggies as they scored 22 unanswered points. The Aggies scored after getting the free-kick as junior Jah-Maine Martin scored from five yards out. When Carter connected with junior Korey Banks on a four-yard touchdown pass, the Aggies carried a 16-10 lead into the locker room at the half.
Two Noel Ruiz field goals in the third quarter gave N.C. A&T a 22-10 lead. But the Bulldogs would rally thanks to two big pass plays.
SCSU quarterback Corey Fields connected with De’Mo Burroughs on a 49-yard touchdown completion to cut the lead to 22-17. On the Bulldogs next drive, Fields connected with Burroughs again, this time on a 56-yard completion to set up a 28-yard field goal by Dillion Bredson to make it 22-20.
“We made two bonehead plays in the secondary, one of them on 3rd-and-10 when we allowed them to get behind us,” said Washington. “We don’t play that type of football here. We’ll address it.”
On the Bulldogs next drive, however, sophomore cornerback Amir McNeill intercepted Fields to end the Bulldogs’ hopes of taking the lead. The Aggies picked up some key first downs off the interception, punted the ball and then held SCSU to a 3-and-out to set up their final game-clinching drive.
“That guy has the heart of a lion,” said Washington about Carter’s performance. “He has so much fight in him, it’s amazing to watch. I thought he threw the ball extremely, especially when we really needed him. He did great on play-action and the (run-pass-options). Perhaps we should have gone vertical a little more as we look at things in hindsight. But I thought he did what we asked him to do for the most part.”
N.C. A&T had a few milestones on Saturday. Ruiz broke the school’s single-season field goals made record as he made his 15th and 16th field goals of the season. Martin reached the 1,000-yard mark becoming the ninth different Aggie to have a 1,000-yard rushing season. It marks the ninth time in 10 years and the seventh straight year the Aggies have had a 1,000-yard rusher.