by Jeff Laughlin
The section of Bowman Gray, the part I could see from the parking lot, stood up and roared as Winston-Salem State took a 7-0 nothing lead over UNC-Pembroke on Saturday evening while I was looking for a parking spot. By the time I walked in and settled, the Rams had established their dominance.
I had scarcely asked how the first score went down before UVA transfer Phillip Sims threw a backward pass to Donovan Raspberry who then fired a 64-yard rope for a 14-0 lead.
From then on, it seemed we might never sit down.
A gentleman two rows in front of me repeatedly said, “Razzle-dazzle!” as though he were introducing the saying to an unwitting audience. That kind of summed up the way UNC-Pembroke reacted. If you could see into the helmets, you might have seen the slack jawed faces of players expecting a hard-fought contest like last year’s 25-21 Braves victory.
With the Rams ranked 14th and the Braves ranked 21st Pembroke could be forgiven for expecting a close game. Both teams made the playoffs last year, and exited in the same round. Both had first-year coaches. Both had a lot to prove before conference play began. The Braves expected to stare across the field at a closely held rival, or maybe even an equal.
Instead, they stared across the field at a team with championship-caliber depth.
That razzle-dazzle play proved to be the harbinger. For the rest of the night, the Rams decimated the Braves.
Winston-Salem State’s defense allowed just 146 yards. Every hole closed up quickly and the Braves’ passing game seemed lost among the athletic Rams backfield.
The offense relentlessly challenged a seemingly stout Braves defense. Even on drives with no scores, it looked like the Rams’ mistakes hurt them worse than the opposing team. A dropped pass that would have certainly resulted in a score and a turnover limited the Rams to 31 offensive points.
At one point, with the score 14-7, a nervous rumble began to collectively move through the crowd. State immediately responded with a score, and the celebration began anew. The red-clad crowd sensed that theirs was the dominant squad. Any nervousness rapidly turned into joyous jeers for the opposing team.
“They can’t handle us. No one can,” the Razzle-Dazzle Man said, a lot, though most fans repeated some variation of that phrase. The halftime score vindicated their pride and arrogance, and the storm clouds held off until the game looked out of hand, 31-7.
Those clouds proved the only effective stop against the Rams. Both of their quarterbacks, who split time in the offense, led a pair of scoring drives. Sims went 10-16 with 107 yards and Rudy Johnson went 14-22 for 122 and a touchdown pass. The defense even scored a touchdown on a fumble recovery courtesy of Danny Bunn. Brenden Felder had a spectacular kickoff return that never should have left the end zone. Even kicker Alejandro Suarez nailed a personal-best 44-yard field goal.
The lightning came in at halftime and officials cleared out the crowd for over an hour. Not too many of them felt the need to return afterward. They’d seen enough to know that this team started off about as perfect as one could. Even Head Coach Kienus Boulware said it: “We still made some mistakes that I would like to see corrected, but overall I thought we played pretty well.”
He may well have said, “They couldn’t handle us. No one can,” since only lightning could stop the show. Would that they could catch this moment in a bottle and carry it with them through the season. The execution, the togetherness, the will to improve despite already being phenomenal — teams don’t often play perfectly to their potential. They don’t often deserve the standing ovations and raucous cheers.
They deserved it Saturday, so we stood up until the skies forbid us to.