by Donal Ware
GREENSBORO – Originally, Saturday’s Aggie-Eagle rivalry in Greensboro was supposed to be for the MEAC championship. But Bethune-Cookman spoiled that last week with a Hail Mary that was answered defeating the Eagles 13-10 in Durham. Still, anytime the Aggies and Eagles get together it should a great game.
Except, Saturday’s game was anything but great.
North Carolina A&T defeated North Carolina Central 24-10, snapping a three-game losing streak to the Eagles. In the process, the Aggies won the MEAC title outright and will play in their second Celebration Bowl in three years and could face off against Alcorn State, Grambling or Southern.
The game was marred by a combined 25 penalties for 197 yards. Both teams received six penalties for 50 yards each in the third quarter alone. Most of the penalties were unsportsmanlike conduct or personal foul penalties.
When two programs that don’t like each other play, you expect there to be some chippiness. About 40 minutes before the game both teams were on opposite ends of the field in their regular, warmup routines. A few of the NCCU players started talking trash to the Aggies who seemed to ignore the chatter. The Eagle players started walking towards the Aggies. 35 yard line, 40 yard line. All of a sudden, the Eagles players started sprinting towards the Aggie players, who also then sprinted toward the Eagles. Both teams met at midfield as the pushing and shoving began. After it was all said and done, four Aggie players received unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. Ultimately, Davanta Reynolds, one of the Eagles best defenders, was ejected from the game for throwing a punch.
Needless to say this chippiness – and that’s putting it mildly – continued throughout the course of the game. While both sides are to blame, it was NCCU that precipitated most of it. And when you start a fight you have to be prepared to finish it.
The Eagles did not.
It got so bad that in the third quarter Ja’Quan Smith made contact with an official after getting an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and was tossed from the game. The game settled down in the fourth quarter and once the type of play that allowed for the Eagles to stay in the game had subsided, they had nothing left.
Speaking on Smith’s ejection, NCCU head coach Jerry Mack said: “Not a good move, not a smart decision for a senior. [ I’m] disappointed in that.”
Football is a physical game and players should certainly play with an edge. Whereas, the Eagles tried to intimidate the Aggies before the game last year, the Aggies weren’t phased this year. Some of the Eagles’ behavior on the field seemed premeditated. The optics would say that the Eagles thought process was, we lost to Bethune-Cookman last week, we hate the Aggies and are just going to play with an I don’t care attitude.
The trash-talking before the game is one thing. Once you get between the lines, the game should be played the right way, tough and hard-nosed, but not dirty.
It would be easy to dismiss this as a one-time deal for NCCU. Except, the Eagles were the most penalized team in the MEAC, coming into the game with 100 penalties. This team seems to be undisciplined going back to last year’s Celebration Bowl, when one of the Eagles players was flagged for a 15-yard penalty after scoring a touchdown then taking his helmet off, causing the Eagles to attempt a longer extra point which was blocked as NCCU fell to Grambling 10-9. Last year, the Eagles were the most penalized team in the MEAC. Two years ago, they were the second least penalized team.
“One thing about penalties, when they start it’s hard to stop them,” said Mack, in this fourth season as the Eagles head coach. “We saw that as an issue the first part of the season and we just never stopped the bleeding. We have some things we are going to evaluate our total program in the offseason and start to do some different things and hope to get that deal fixed.”
Furthermore, about 15-20 NCCU players walked off the field toward the locker room before the game was even over.
The Aggies are the second-least penalized team in the MEAC.
“It’s tough, we wanted to be a class organization and we want to play that way,” said A&T seventh-year head coach Rod Broadway, who was also NCCU’s coach for four years. “We don’t want to get caught up in that stuff, we hadn’t all year. Sometimes emotions get the best of you especially at that age. We gave them some cheap things because of our emotions sometimes and played a way that was out of character for us. I think both teams came out emotional but that’s uncalled for, all you have to do is play the game. All that other stuff doesn’t mean anything to anybody.”
The game was shown live on ESPN3 and will be shown tape delayed tonight on ESPNU for all the world to see a really embarrassing performance. You know people will be pointing a finger saying, “See…”
As a graduate of an HBCU, I will not be watching it, again.