Art Lawler Staff Writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Oh, so this is what they've been talking about.
The 2013 Tiger model fires up five Mac tractors at the line of scrimmage, throws the gears into grumble and shoves the petal to the medal, all the while hiding a small spinning object behind them — one that appears to be running on whirling wheels.
By the time the enemy spots Jo Jo (Beep Beep) Snell, he's past them, making defenses like Arkansas-Monticello's look more like Wile E. Coyote than Boll Weevils.
This is gonna be fun, Tiger fans. ECU belted Arkansas-Monticello, 46-22, and put on a memorable show in the process.
Some of those Mac tractors included Bryan Newell (6-7, 310), Marcus Beale (6-4, 300), J.J. Farrell, 6-6, 310), Travis Henning (6-7-280) and Talon Starkey, 6-5, 270), just to name a few.
Hot, sweaty but otherwise delighted, ECU boosters were introduced to the Tigers' version of The Roadrunner (Snell) Saturday evening at Norris Field.
By the half, Snell had more than 100 yards rushing, two touchdowns (one that counted and one that didn't) and thousands of new fans as the Tigers built a lopsided 33-8 halftime lead.
The one that didn't count was a beep-beep, 65-yard Roadrunner special that didn't end until the end zone was conquered — even if only for a moment.
The play was called back by spoilsport officials who spotted a block in the back somewhere amidst the chaos.
If it sounds like Snell was the star of this game, he wasn't. He was just the newest member of an impressive list of character actors and productive role players who flexed their muscles at Monticello's expense.
Here come the real stars:
The Tigers turned in big play after big play to snuff out any modest Weevil comeback attempt in its bizarre second-half bid.
Here's a few hints on the star of the game.
• A magnificent 80-yard pick six return by defensive back Qumain Black.
• Another magnificent 58-yard pass interception by Black, which he took to Monticello's 5-yard line.
• A 40-yard punt return by Black.
• A post-game bulletin: Black, a 6-1, 185-pound junior cornerback and former Ada Cougar, was named Defensive Player of the Week in the GAC conference.
The Roadrunner will get his chance down the road if anybody can catch up to him. Let's continue with more of the big plays:
• A 97-yard rushing effort by senior running back Justin Todd — another former Ada High star — on just nine carries.
• A defensive line and backer effort that resulted in steel wall resistance, as in 23 yards rushing for the Weevils for the night. (It took 32 rushes for Monticello to get that much.)
• A 54-yard kickoff return by LaQuan Harper.
• A 45-yard run by Snell to the UAM 35.
• A Fred Gaines interception at the Tigers’ 10 to end a promising Monticello drive.
• A fourth-quarter Jamal Whitney interception to thwart yet another Monticello drive.
You won't see this many big plays in most NFL games. Were the Tigers perfect?
The newest Tiger model gave coaches plenty of bugs to fret about along the way, not the least of which were 13 penalties for 106 yards.
But first and foremost, as coaches look under the hood for a thrown rod, will be the special teams group responsible for kickoff and punt return coverage.
As a unit, it was horrendous. Head coach Tim McCarty said it was "terrible." Here's why:
The Boll Weevils returned seven kickoffs for 170 yards and four punts for 65 yards. Do the math, and you'll get 235 mostly unacceptable yards.
McCarty may just bring this up at the next practice.
"We had a lot of great plays tonight,” he said after the lights went out in the still, humid night air.
“I thought our kick return coverage was terrible,” he said. “It was a thorn in my side all night, and it spoiled what otherwise was a great night for us. But we'll get it fixed.”
Let's get back to The Roadrunner. McCarty was so concerned about keeping his new-found weapon healthy that he all but wrapped him in a plastic air-conditioned bubble in the second half.
Snell didn't run another offensive play, while McCarty tried to see just how much depth he has at the running back position.
Turns out, quite a bit. You had Todd and his eight carries for 97 yards. David Massengill had 43 yards on 11 carries, but many of those were tough yards when the Boll Weevils had the Tigers pinned deep in their own territory.
Here's why that kept happening, according to McCarty:
He and his coaching staff were content in the last half to get out of this game without injuries, dehydration problems and any unnecessary nicks and cuts, which they did.
They substituted freely and fought off Monticello quarterback Colton Morrison’s 55 quick pass attempts. After the early going, the Boll Weevils, frustrated by not being able to run and with no time to throw deep, went to the no-huddle offense and the quick slant passes and tosses in the backfield.
Morrison threw almost every pass within a second of catching it from the center, not even pretending to read the defense. The result was 38 completions, the longest going for 17 yards. Of course, four of those passes wound up in Tiger hands.
In a way, the rash of short passes — a dozen of them to running back Cody Bordelon for 128 yards — gave the Tiger defense much-needed work on tackling in the open spaces.
The longer this went on, the better ECU seemed to get at controlling it.
Then, of course, when Monticello dared approach the goal line, the team's talented defensive backs always seemed to reach up and spoil the Boll Weevils’ too-little, too-late comeback attempt.
Granted, Morrison got 241 yards, and his backup, Cody Trimble, completed three more for 85 yards for 326 yards in the air. But only one of those 64 passes went for a touchdown.
As time wore on, it almost looked as if Monticello was committing slow football suicide with the short dink and dunk passes.
The obliging Tiger defense seemed quite willing to watch the Boll Weevils bleed themselves out.
After Snell's 65-yard run was called back in the first quarter, Todd managed to get across the goal line on a 4-yard run at the 6:12 mark.
The contest then briefly turned into a baseball game, with UAM's Jamie McGee kicking a 23-yard field goal and the Boll Weevils’ Alex Black catching Snell after a Spencer Bond pitch back about five yards deep in the end zone for a safety.
That made it a 7-5 game in the bottom of the first.
Bond, who was in charge of game management in this one, got a touchdown from the 1 to complete a 5-yard drive that came after the 58-yard Black interception with 2:30 left in the first.
Monticello got three more points early in the second on a 34-yard McGee field goal. With 10:26 left in the half, Snell scored on a 9-yard run to make it a 21-8 game.
A little over two minutes later, Todd broke loose for a 27-yard touchdown.
ECU kicker David Massuere added a 38-yard field goal, and the Tigers got a safety of their own. It was suddenly 33-8, Paws.
The trainers took Bond to the dressing room to rehydrate him in the third period, but he quickly returned to the lineup after missing one series.
Monticello’s Cody Bordelon caught an 8-yard scoring pass from Morrison in the first five minutes of the second half.
Lindsey Anderson then scored on a 5-yard pass from Bond to put the Tigers up, 40-15.
Rod Smith got the Boll Weevils’ last touchdown with 7:14 left in the third on a 2-yard run.That was just about it — except for one last show stopper from Black.
The former Ada quarterback stole a Morrison pass and, as if shot from a cannon, covered 80 yards in the flash of an eye to put the final points on the board at 46-22.
The fourth quarter did little more than keep the stat crew busy producing a deceptive but truthful numbers story of the game.
Monticello had six more first downs, a 326-73 advantage in passing yards and a 349-297 edge in total offense as McCarty proved once again that he’s not much for stats, unless it's the one on the scoreboard.
Now, if the Tigers can just fix the kick return protection problem ...