Good Sport: A blowout at the carnival

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by Jeff Laughlin

I wandered past the nonsensical parking-lot dance commands of “Electric Boogie” and a man on stilts offered me a high five. Children slid down inflatable slides and everyone ate $10 fish plates. A group of high-school kids downed funnel cakes with no napkins, holding the plates to the sides of their expensive shoes.

In the distance whistles sounded, starting the drumlines of marching bands as they battled for supremacy.

This was not a carnival, but Senior Day at NC A&T University.

With the grass dying underneath the first real cold of the fall, both Morgan State and the hometown Aggies looked hungover. Neither team had much to do on their first two drives.

The throngs of folks that had made GHOE — the Greatest Homecoming on Earth — an impossible ticket yielded to the small, concerned crowd that seemed to worry that the hangover would persist.

The highs of homecoming dissipated after an off-week for A&T, and they have been sharp in any return to action after long layoffs under Head Coach Rod Broadway. After feeling out a hard-fought drive for a field goal, A&T found the footing that the crowd desperately craved.

Running a modified no-huddle, Broadway’s Aggies used a three-pronged running attack. Quarterback Kwashaun Quick took a bulk of the snaps and either ran the zone read — a clever scheme meant to keep defenses guessing who would carry the ball until the last possible second — or fire to the flats for bubble screens to wide receivers.

A team needs an abundance of speed to run the zone-read and bubble-screen game, and A&T had it on Saturday. Each play had a chance to make it to the second level and the Aggies consistently pitted their fastest men against linebackers and safeties instead of linemen. The blocking looked sloppy, but that’s the plan for A&T. They want to spread out defenses, use off-tackle misdirection plays to create one-on-one matchups against slower, out-of-position players.

Morgan State came into the game with the only rusher over 1,000 yards in the Mid Eastern Athletic Conference and an identical 4-1 record in conference. The winner would earn a tie in first place in the MEAC and Morgan State boasted a defense that had been undeniably good early in the year. Morgan State had deteriorated as of late, though, and Broadway had a week to prepare.

Three to zero would be the closest Morgan State would feel the rest of the day. The crowd eased back and got comfortable in the chilly November shade as Quick dismantled the Bears. The A&T rushing attack wounded the Bears, leaving gaping holes where defenders used to stand.

The Bears bled points, going down 10-0 after a Quick TD pass, one of four on the day, to Denzel Keyes. Keyes stood inches over his defensive counterpart and simply moved the cornerback out of the way to snag his first TD. In fact, the Aggies wideouts did whatever they wanted in the end zone all day, making the Bears look not just overmatched, but athletically inferior.

Even when Morgan State managed to force third-and-long situations, they either gave away critical penalty yards or fell victim to speed on the outside. Whenever the Aggies needed a chunk of yardage, they rolled Quick out on bootlegs and allowed their receiver to overpower the Morgan State secondary. Quick had all kinds of running lanes to his advantage — Broadway’s coaching staff had already seen what the crowd only started to witness in the 21-point second quarter. Morgan State had toughness and scrappiness, even heart, but they did not have the speed or dexterity to compete with A&T.

Leading 31-0, the A&T drumline escorted the teams back onto the field. Maybe on another day, the corps would have stopped short of the kickoff, but this was Senior Day. They played through the entire third quarter, adding to the A&T dominance in the stadium.

The onslaught continued. Quick struck Xavier Griffin on a front-side fade to the close corner of the end zone for the game’s final score in the third quarter. The scattered Morgan State fans had taken to watching the sideshow at that point. Though we all had a collective malaise — a hangover of our own — there was no denying the carnivalesque common ground at that point. We were all buried in fish plates and nodding our heads to the beat. Sometimes clarity loses out to desire, but most of the time talent wins, though not always 45-0.

As the replacements wandered onto the field in the blowout fourth quarter, the A&T band may as well have played “Send in the Clowns.”