In the chaotic seconds after the end of N.C. A&T’s controversial overtime football loss to Florida A&M on Sunday, a flag was thrown.
As a long and delayed game seemed to hang in doubt as the final FAMU touchdown was being reviewed, the flag suddenly disappeared.
Sam Washington, the A&T coach, was never given a reason for the officials picking up the flag, but he thinks he knows why.
“Fear,” he said. “They were scared.”
FAMU defeated the visiting Aggies 34-31 after the final play was reviewed. Accounts of those who were there suggested that an already tense, even dangerous, atmosphere that had boiled all day long was close to getting worse.
Washington had already called for security from his players, not because of the other team but because of fans in the stands behind their bench. A spokesman for FAMU confirmed that A&T’s sideline was directly in front of the Rattlers band and student section.
The entire day seemed to be a recipe for disaster. Washington admitted his team lost its composure in what devolved into a halftime scuffle outside the locker rooms, a fight that resulted in ejections of players and even a FAMU coach.
Several ejections due to this fight at halftime of N.C. A&T and FAMU. pic.twitter.com/oO3IcOHHDE— Lori Buhring (@loribuhring) October 20, 2019
“We were all out of character because of the antics before the game,” Washington said. “They started when we walked onto the field. It was on.”
The game had been delayed one day because of the threat of a tropical storm. A&T wasn’t happy about having to spend an extra day in Florida, and Sunday afternoon brought excessive heat and humidity, all of which made for an uncomfortable afternoon in a heated environment.
“A lot of things were out of the norm,” Washington said.
There was plenty of chatter back and forth, with three A&T players called for unsportsmanlike-conduct penalties. The teams went back and forth, scoring five touchdowns between them in the first half, amping up the emotions even more.
But when the teams had to cross the field from opposite sides to get to the locker rooms at halftime, everything came to a head.
Officials had been told before the game to hold the home team back while A&T’s players went to the locker room, FAMU sports information director Brian Howard said.
“In terms of security, we’d made sure that at halftime the officials knew to hold FAMU back, and they said they would,” Howard said. “But everything pretty much broke loose at that point.”
Rattlers defensive coordinator Ralph Street was in the middle of the scuffle, something Washington said troubled him deeply.
“I’ve never seen nothing like that before, and I’ve been doing this since 1968,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot, but that’s the first time I’ve ever seen anything like that in that magnitude.”
Players, coaches and officials pushed and shoved and tried to break up the situation, which seemed to end then begin again. Personal fouls were called on both teams, which meant the previous calls against three Aggie players required them to be ejected.
The second half was even wilder on the A&T sidelines as students and players went back and forth with each other, prompting Washington to ask for even more security.
“It was frightening,” Washington said. “The stands got involved in our sideline. It got scary over there.”
Howard said he saw an A&T player appear to go after one of the fans in the student section.
“It was bad on both sides,” he said. “There were a lot of gestures back and forth. I don’t think it was necessarily the lack of security. You had two teams who have a little bit of a history together, and when you get two of the top teams in the conference in that kind of atmosphere, tempers start to flare up. Unfortunately you had A&T on the same side as the FAMU students, and the band was there, too.”
He said that will change in the final two games in Bragg Memorial Stadium.
Washington apologized to the A&T community this afternoon.
“I do owe all of you an apology for the way we behaved on the sidelines and during the game,” he said. “We allowed ourselves to fall into their trap. That’s not becoming of a champion. For that I owe you an apology, and I mean that sincerely. You do not have to worry about that ever happening again.”
He said he would do things differently next time to make sure his team remained calm in the face of adversity and promised he would make sure to get his team off the field at halftime.
FAMU officials said the teams would no longer cross each other on the field at halftime.
Washington said he would address the situation with his team this afternoon then move on.
But he would like for the league to explain to him the real season why that flag mysteriously disappeared on the final play of a wild game on a red-hot Sunday in Tallahassee.