GREENVILLE — Outlined against a blue-gray September sky, East Carolina and N.C. A&T tried to play one another in a football game for the first time Saturday evening.
Instead, approaching thunderstorms forced the evacuation of Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium — twice — and the game was eventually postponed after those blue-gray skies turned black and rain poured down amid jagged flashes of lightning.
The Aggies and Pirates will try again Sunday, with kickoff set for 3:30 p.m.
It’s an important game for both.
It’s a so-called guarantee game for A&T (1-0), and the lower-division FCS program will be paid roughly $300,000 plus travel costs by FBS East Carolina to play the game.
A&T traveled to Greenville on Friday, them team put up in a local hotel the day before the game.
But there were not enough hotel rooms for the team in Greenville on Saturday night, so ECU was searching Raleigh and Fayetteville to find rooms for the Aggies after the postponement.
“We met with ECU’s athletics officials,” A&T athletics director Earl Hilton said, “and we talked about options. Tomorrow (Sunday) made the most sense. There were some concerns for both of us about having a short week of practice before next Saturday’s games, but it was the best option. Neither one of us wanted to try to play it later, in the middle of our (league) seasons.”
The game against A&T is the season opener for the Pirates (0-0), who are coming off consecutive 3-9 seasons and eager to start a new year.
The game was supposed to start at 6 p.m. Saturday, but a little after 5:30 p.m. the first weather warning was announced and the stadium was evacuated.
Two hours later, East Carolina’s band played the national anthem and the Pirates elaborate pregame video was shown. Lineups were introduced, and the ECU players ran onto the field through a cloud of purple smoke.
But before A&T could follow, there came an announcement to evacuate the stadium again because of severe storms and lightning in the area.
By 9:30 p.m. it was raining hard, and Hilton and head coach Sam Washington were walking from the Murphy Center in the south end zone back across the empty field, soaking wet, toward the A&T locker room to tell the team of the postponement.