Guilford College defensive end Gibson Ziah could hardly believe it when I told him.
He’d recorded three solo sacks against the Greensboro College Pride quarterback Mac Graham in the 20th annual Gate City Soup Bowl, the two schools’ season opener.
“Did they give me three?” he laughed after as quartz light shone through the mild night. “I thought he worked out of one of them, but if it’s three, I’ll take three.”
Sure enough, I’d seen Ziah slam Graham onto Herb Appenzeller Field’s gridiron three times. The game’s Most Valuable Player rushed the pass ferociously, outfoxing the Pride’s left side to deliver bone-crushing hits to the hapless QB, leading to 15 yards lost. During one of his sacks, he forced and recovered a fumble on the Greensboro 9-yard line.
When an offensive line can’t protect its field marshal, you know that team’s in trouble. And in the case of Sept. 2’s Soup Bowl, “trouble” is a kind word. Ziah, linebackers Hunter Hoots and Jared Davis and strong safety Trevon Simmons alone combined for 29 tackles.
This impressive defensive effort at home helped the Quakers hold onto the Soup Bowl trophy.
Until recently, the rivalry between Guilford and Greensboro College had been one both of proximity and equal skill. In 2012, when Greensboro College last won the game, the win-loss record stood at 8-8. But the Quakers pulled away as head coach Chris Rusiewicz built a program with dynastic potential, going 9-1 last year and winning six Old Dominion Athletic Conference games — both figures setting school records.
Of course, the two schools will continue to play the Soup Bowl, no matter how lopsided the victories may be. It’s for a good cause.
Greensboro College President Craven Williams can take credit for naming the contest the Soup Bowl. It was back in 1997, the Pride football program’s inaugural season, when Williams suggested the idea of holding a canned-food drive during the Guilford-Greensboro game. This year, the drive collected 7,658 items, donated to Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina.
Along with the Soup Bowl trophy, the school with the most collected canned goods receives the Soup Cup. Here again, Guilford slayed the competition, donating 5,829 of the cans. Damn hippies.
Of course, they benefitted from home-field advantage, just like their team.
“This isn’t a typical Soup Bowl crowd,” Guilford College athletic spokesman Bryan Jones said in the press box. “This is more like homecoming last year.”
It’s true. The home-crowd stands below the box swelled with students and alumni alike, a crimson tide rolling and roaring with each huge play.
I honestly didn’t know how to feel about the ensuing blowout by my alma mater. At first, I maintained a veneer of neutrality. I remained calm as Guilford wide receiver Rontavius Miller secured a 36-yard catch from quarterback Karsten Miller for the first Quaker touchdown of the game.
But I soon couldn’t hide my excitement.
Guilford played possibly the most dominant game of football I’d ever witnessed in person. I’m including my years following the Appalachian State University Mountaineers back when they were good enough to beat the University of Michigan, let alone demolish James Madison University. While the Quaker defense damaged Greensboro’s pride, leading to frustration penalties keeping them out of the red zone, Guilford College scored seven touchdowns, a series record for points in a half.
Three of those touchdowns occurred in less than a minute of possession: one 13-yard run by back Hunter Causey shaving 47 seconds off the clock and two carries by running back De’Eric Bell, one a 20-yard dash in 25 seconds and the other accomplished in only 10 seconds after Ziah’s red-zone sack.
Abe Kenmore, an old friend from the Guilfordian student newspaper, covered the game and watched with me, and we both couldn’t believe the runs, passes and hits Guilford leveled against Greensboro. But then we realized something.
The Quakers failed to score on their first possession of the second half, so punter Chase Mitchell kicked.
“That’s the first time we’ve punted in a while,” Kenmore said.
I stopped and I looked at my halftime stat sheet.
“That’s the first time we’ve punted the whole game,” I replied.
Even the coaches responded with disbelief at times.
“There’s still 11 minutes left?” one of the Guilford coaches squawked from the home coordinators’ booth.
By that point, Guilford had brought out the third string, and they still couldn’t help but score touchdowns.
With 56.9 seconds to go, Greensboro wide receiver Patrick Jesequel bobbled a punt return, and Davis recovered the rock at the 13-yard line. Guilford reserve quarterback Brodie West took two knees to end the slaughter at 69-0.
Ziah credited the win to Guilford’s physicality.
“They wasn’t as fast as our guys,” Ziah commented.
Bell echoed the sentiment.
“We were just more conditioned,” he said. “Before snaps, people would still be on their knees and walking to their position.”
Jones was more constructive.
“Greensboro’s really improved. You can’t tell here,” he said, pointing to the scoreboard, “but they shot themselves in the foot.”
The Guilford squad couldn’t contain its joy over a fourth consecutive win.
“We’re tryin’ to make this tradition,” Ziah said. A pensive beat. “Well, it is a tradition.”