GREENSBORO — There’s no sugar-coating it. N.C. A&T's football team laid an egg over the weekend, falling flat on the road in Baltimore and losing to a bad Morgan State team that came in 1-8.
And then, an hour later, Bethune-Cookman went out and laid a whole dozen eggs, losing to an even worse 1-8 Delaware State team.
What’s going on here? Doesn’t anybody — at least anybody eligible — want to win the MEAC?
So now it comes down to this for A&T:
● Win the last two games of the season and go back to the Celebration Bowl for the third year in a row.
● Lose either of the last two games and almost certainly miss the postseason for the first time in five years.
The No. 25 Aggies host Bethune-Cookman on Saturday at BB&T Stadium in this week’s edition of the biggest game of the season.
A&T, Bethune and South Carolina State all head into the weekend with the same record: 4-2 MEAC, 6-3 overall.
But those records are not identical. A&T beat S.C. State, which beat Bethune. In a two-way tie, the tie-breaker is a head-to-head victory.
And after Saturday, either A&T or Bethune will have a third league loss.
“(The Morgan State loss) amplifies things for us,” A&T coach Sam Washington said. “We’re in pretty much the same situation as last year, when it went down to almost the last play between Bethune and FAMU to decide who went to the Celebration Bowl. This is headed in that direction again. But I do know this: If we win the last two ballgames, we should be in pretty good shape. We’re blessed that we still have control of our own destiny, and we don’t have to rely on someone else to beat someone else for us to get there. It’s in our hands.”
It's Celebration Bowl or bust this year for A&T. One more loss would likely drop A&T out of the FCS national polls, and the consolation prize of an at-large berth in the FCS Playoffs for an unranked 7-4 second-place team from a league with no automatic qualifier is difficult to imagine.
S.C. State closes with road games at N.C. Central (3-3, 4-6) and Norfolk State (3-3, 4-6). And Bethune still has to play ineligible Florida A&M (6-0, 8-1) in its regular-season finale, a game that counts in the standings even though the Rattlers are on NCAA probation and banned from the postseason.
So myriad MEAC scenarios exist.
“Any time you’ve got a chance to be part of possible conference championship, it adds to the excitement for your team,” S.C. State coach Buddy Pough said. “... We could even possibly get into the Celebration Bowl, but a lot of things have to happen for us. What we point toward is (a share of) the conference championship, because we can control that by taking care of our own business.”
Of the three front-runners, only A&T truly controls its own fate. All the Aggies have to do is win.
Then again, a Morgan State team that was losing games by an average score of 35-14 and surrendering 5.2 yards per rush never trailed in beating A&T 22-16.
“It’s possible we needed a wake-up call,” Washington said, “a kick in the butt and the realization that you can’t just show up. You have to play. We were guilty — some of us, anyway — of not preparing properly mentally to play in that ballgame. It was an eye-opener for us that, yes, we can be beat. It’s very important that we approach practices and games much better than we did last week.”
Because there’s no margin for error, no room for another loss.