It was plenty impressive that Jeremy Gilchrist returned three punts for touchdowns in 11 games last season, particularly since that number led the Football Championship Subdivision. Even more spectacular was Gilchrist returning two punts for touchdowns Saturday in a span of 1 minute, 59 seconds.
His first, for 56 yards, gave Hampton University the lead in its Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference game against North Carolina A&T. His second, for 88 yards, turned the game into a rout before halftime as the Pirates crushed the Aggies 44-7.
The return touchdowns were the fourth for the Pirates within four quarters. Kevin Teel returned kickoffs 87 and 90 yards for touchdowns a week earlier in the Pirates' 38-27 win over Howard.
After averaging an FCS-best 19 yards per return a year ago, Gilchrist, who transferred from Virginia Tech two years ago, entered the game averaging just 7.1 yards. He warmed up in the first quarter with a 21-yard punt return, astonished but happy the Aggies were kicking to him.
"Southern Illinois and Howard didn't kick to me," he said. "I figured it would be that way all year long."
He broke four tackles, barely remaining on stride as he broke open at the 15, in sprinting 56 yards to the end zone down the right sideline. That gave the Pirates a 14-7 lead with 6:34 to play in the second quarter.
The Pirates (3-1, 2-0 MEAC) stopped the Aggies (2-2, 0-2) on three downs — highlighted by linebacker Michael Swett's 8-yard sack of A&T quarterback Carlton Fears — and Gilchrist went to work again.
He caught Lee Woodson's 38-yard punt at his own 12 and broke left into the open field after narrowly avoiding a shoestring tackle attempt by Vernon White. As he approached the Aggies' 40, he had only Woodson to beat. Gilchrist accomplished that by pushing his lead blocker, Charles Robinson, into Woodson before breaking right to paydirt.
"That's a team thing," he said of the nudge he gave to Robinson. "It's my responsibility to carry the ball and help set up the blocks. They did a good job of blocking for me, and I was fortunate enough to find the seams."
Following Gilchrist's second TD, Woodson's attempts to keep the ball away from him were almost comical. Woodson placed his next kick out of bounds, but for only 22 yards.
That gave the Pirates the ball at the A&T 43, a distance they needed just four plays to traverse. Herbert Bynes (15-for-25 passing, 153 yards) connected with Justin Brown on a wide-receiver screen for an 18-yard touchdown, giving the Pirates their third touchdown in less than six minutes and a 27-7 halftime lead.
Bynes used the wide-receiver screen, for 36 yards to Kevin Teel, to move the Pirates into scoring position midway through the third quarter. Tennessee transfer LaMarcus Coker (12 carries, 87 yards) swept 18 yards around left end on the next play for his first Hampton TD to increase the lead to 34-7.
Receivers also figured significantly in the Pirates' first touchdown, jump-starting a rushing attack that struggled the first three games. Reggie Dixon ran 30 yards on an end-around before Gilchrist followed suit by sweeping 8 yards. That set up Jerry Cummings' 1-yard touchdown run that put Hampton up 7-0 before the game was three minutes old.
"We've been doing that all along," HU coach Jerry Holmes said of the end-around, "but this time we (blocked) all the right guys and they got to the edge."
The Aggies drove 80 yards early in the second quarter to tie the game at 7. Michael Ferguson (98 rushing yards) spearheaded the march, which culminated in Fears' 3-yard pass to Chaz Dawson, with runs of 9, 18 and 11 yards.
The rest of the night belonged to Gilchrist. The only folks to slow Gilchrist were 20 relatives, all wearing Hampton jerseys bearing his No. 19, who blockaded his path as he trotted from the field.
"I never thought I'd run two punts back for touchdowns again," said Gilchrist, who returned punts 86 and 57 yards against Florida A&M last season. "What was going through my head? Oxygen.
"Man, I was tired after that second one."
HAMPTON 44, NORTH CAROLINA A&T 7N. Carolina A&T0700 — 7Hampton720710 — 44First QuarterHU—Cummings 1 run (Turavani kick), 12:08.
Second QuarterA&T—Dawson 3 pass from Fears (Houston kick), 11:18.
HU—Gilchrist 56 punt return (Turavani kick), 6:34.
HU—Gilchrist 88 punt return (Turavani kick), 4:35.
HU—Brown 18 pass from Bynes (kick failed), :27.
Third QuarterHU—Coker 18 run (Turavani kick), 7:25.
Fourth QuarterHU—FG Turavani 24, 11:05.
HU—Griffin 35 run (Turavani kick), 7:41.
A—5,103.A&THUFirst downs1022Rushes-yards28-8741-271Passing110153Comp-Att-Int17-28-215-25-0Return Yards0197Punts-Avg.10-34.04-39.5Fumbles-Lost0-00-0Penalties-Yards8-704-37Time of Possession31:2028:40INDIVIDUAL STATISTICSRUSHING—N. Carolina A&T, Ferguson 17-98, Morgan 1-6, D.McNair 7-3, Fears 3-(minus 20). Hampton, Coker 12-87, Dixon 2-62, Griffin 10-53, Mathis 10-38, Bynes 4-23, Gilchrist 1-7, Cummings 2-1.
PASSING—N. Carolina A&T, Fears 13-21-1-76, Morgan 4-7-1-34. Hampton, Bynes 15-25-0-153.
RECEIVING—N. Carolina A&T, Miles 6-28, Lowrance 4-39, Dawson 2-21, D.McNair 2-21, Byrd 1-5, Ferguson 1-0, Cosby 1-(minus 4). Hampton, Teel 5-57, Coker 3-31, McCain 3-7, Brown 2-33, Gilchrist 2-25.