September 5, 2012 | Leave a Comment
By Billy Liggett and Cherry Crayton
Campbell University Department of Communications
BUIES CREEK - Fall Saturdays at Barker-Lane Stadium have been electric since the return of football at Campbell University in 2008.
This year, the program added actual electricity in the form of new lighting and four night games in Buies Creek … the first held Aug. 30, the Camels’ season opener against the Shorter University Hawks.
Night games are by no means something new to the world of college football. But playing under the lights is another exciting step for a program coming off its first winning season since a decades-long hiatus and a program still looking to define itself.
The new atmosphere seemed to be a hit with the fans as well. Despite the game being played on a Thursday, Campbell drew its third-largest crowd in school history. Many on hand said they preferred the late starts for various reasons (cooler weather among them).
To chronicle what many considered a historic day for Campbell Athletics, we kept a journal of the big game, from the arrival of the first tailgaters to game’s ending and beyond.
The score may have been a disappointment (Campbell lost, 31-20), but the experience was a memorable one.
Photos by Will Bratton ‘11 and Billy Liggett
Night football is new to Buies Creek.
Unlike the usual Saturday 1 p.m. starts, the time to start tailgating for a 7 p.m. Thursday kickoff isn’t written in stone at Campbell University.
With the large tailgating area near Burkot Hall surrounded by fittingly orange plastic fence, the first to brave the seasonably warm temperatures (88 degrees and humid) to celebrate Campbell football are Kevin and Colette Owens, the parents of 6-foot-5 sophomore offensive lineman Nick Beaver.
They’re joined by Pam Olejniczak, wife of the team’s offensive coordinator, Oscar Olejniczak, and they’ll expect about 15 in all about an hour before kickoff.
But kickoff is still almost five hours away. The Owens are early birds because they want a prime spot - there aren’t many trees in Campbell’s tailgating area, and on this day, they’re situated under one of the few shady spots in the field.
“It’s the best spot out here,” says Kevin. “Under the shade tree lowest to the ground, close to the stadium. It’s a great spot.”
Shade is important for late-August, early-September football games in Buies Creek. Once inside the stadium, there is none.
So when the Owens heard about the addition of lights at Barker-Lane Stadium for the 2012 season, they fell in love with the idea.
“I said ‘Praise the Lord,’” Colette says. “No more baking in those bleachers. No more roasting like chickens.”
Thirty minutes later, the second group of tailgaters arrive. Danny and Diane Braswell of Pittsboro took Thursday off to watch their son, Dalton Brown, also a sophomore offensive lineman.
Danny has bratwursts on the grill by 4, and around this time, the field starts to see more life as fans begin to trickle in and music begins to blare from speakers set up next to a “fun jump” and rock-climbing wall near the Burkot entrance.
It’s still hot outside (the temperature has climbed to 90), but Danny is happy to know the heat will leave with the sun tonight.
“It was a great idea to add the lights,” he says. “Cooler weather and more people … I think the crowds will be even bigger on Saturday nights.”
The Owens say there were days early in the 2011 football season where they couldn’t enjoy themselves because of the heat.
“When you’re talking 99 to 100 degrees, it’s too much,” Colette says. “I remember the second game last year … we couldn’t stand it. And it’s even hotter in the stadium.”
And the gnats, they say.
We’ll get to the gnats later.
The gates to Barker-Lane Stadium are open, and a few fans begin to trickle in.
Upon entering, fans are handed commemorative “I Was There” buttons for the Camels’ first home night game.
But most of the action remains in the parking lot and in the tailgating area, where the orange is getting thicker and thicker.
And the smell is getting better and better.
Manning a large pit and tending to a whole pig is Campbell Vice President of Student Life Dr. Dennis Bazemore, a veteran of the pre-game celebration in Buies Creek. Bazemore looks up from his pit to take in the crowd around him and smiles.
“It’s a wonderful spirit out here, and I think it’ll be even better at night,” he says. “When the sun goes down and the lights come on, it’ll surely be different out here. For the students and players, I think it’ll be a better atmosphere.”
And cooler, he adds.
As has everybody.
Gaylord, recently named the fourth most unique college mascot in the nation by Yahoo! Sports, is making the rounds at the tailgate area near Burkot. He’s taking turns playing ladder ball and corn hole and giving students and children high fives. And he’s posing for pictures.
In the midst of this is a small Jack Russell terrier sniffing around. His name is Wiggles, he’s blind, and he belongs to the Burt family.
Cassie and Travis Burt of Greenville are the parents of Branden, who played for Campbell the past four seasons. Now he’s a fifth-year student in Campbell’s trust and wealth management program, and Cassie and Travis are waiting for their son to arrive at the tailgate area.
It’ll be Branden’s first tailgate at Campbell, and the first game he’ll be sitting in the stands as a fan and not on the field.
“It’s kind of sad that he won’t be out there playing,” Cassie says. “But the other guys who started on the offensive line with him, like Sam and Butch, they’re all still here, and we’ll be cheering them on.”
“This is a close-knit community,” Travis adds. “And we’re going to continue to support the program as much as we can. There is nothing like Campbell football.”
He offers a share of examples. Campbell had 56 players who received Academic Honor Roll accolades from the Pioneer Football League last season, and the team’s average GPA is 3.0 or better.
“They all came here for an education, but they have the luxury to play football,” Travis says.
And, last season, as a joke, Travis had T-shirts made up that read, “Get Burt the ball.” As an offensive lineman, Branden’s job was to block and protect those with the ball ... not actually get the ball — hence, the joke. Travis had a handful of the T-shirts made for a game, but fans kept asking him for one.
The next game, he brought 180, and he gave them all out. Even Gaylord put one on.
“It was all done in good fun,” Travis says, “but it shows you what type of community we have here.”
At about 5:45, Branden arrives and meets up with his parents. Soon, he’ll grab Wiggles, take him to his house in Buies Creek, and then return to catch the game.
“I’m excited for the guys in the program,” Branden says. “It’s going to be different sitting in the stands, but I’m going to enjoy the time I get to spend with other fans.
“I was part of a lot of firsts for Campbell football, and tonight, these guys are going to be part of the first night game. That’s special. It’s
something they’ll never forget it.”
By now the tailgaters are packing up the food and heading toward the stadium, where inside they see kickers and special teams players from both teams warming up on the field.
Shorter is dressed in all white with blue helmets, while Campbell for the first time is wearing its new Under Armour uniforms … orange jerseys with white numbers and black trim, white pants and black helmets with an orange and white CU on the helmet. The new look isn’t terribly different than uniforms past, but it’s sleeker and reflects pretty well under the new lights.
The lights aren’t on yet, but there is one noticeable change on the field from past August/September home games.
There are no gnats.
Those familiar with Campbell football are familiar with the pesky little insects who have been known to swarm the stands during early season home games, particularly on hot and humid days.
Gnats love moisture, and when a football stadium is full of hot and sweaty fans on a humid Saturday afternoon, they arrive by the thousands.
They’re the topic of a conversation overheard in the short line at the concession stand.
“When the lights come on, they’ll fly up,” one man says. “They’re like moths. They go to the light.”
Whether his statement was scientifically factual or not, his words would come to be true.
The gnats were not a factor in the season opener.
Speckled among the sea of orange forming in the Campbell stands were dots of blue. A few dozen fans of Shorter University, a small Christian school founded in 1873.
Shorter’s faithful drove nearly eight hours from northwest Georgia to watch their program play in their first game since moving to Division II (a step below Campbell, which is Division I FCS, formerly Division I-AA).
Shorter fan Freddy Mitchell drove a long way to watch his grandson’s first game … though from the opposite direction. Mitchell left at 7 a.m. from his home in Delaware and made it to the stadium just in time to see his grandson take the field for pre-game warm-ups.
Like most Shorter fans, Mitchell is unaware of the historical significance of Campbell’s first game under the lights. He was excited about Shorter’s first game against tougher competition.
“Division II, it’s a big step for us,” says Mitchell, a retired football coach who spent most of his career in Virginia. “I wouldn’t miss this game for the world.”
He’s surprised to find out tonight is Campbell’s first night game or that Campbell is still relatively new to college football, having rebooted its program five years ago.
“Well, I’m sure it’ll be a competitive game,” he says. “If I’m Campbell’s coach, I’d tell those boys, ‘Let’s go out there and shine tonight, fellas.’”
Sounds like Mitchell has this coach-speak thing down.
It’s still daylight out, but with little fanfare, the lights have come on.
Little white reflections of light can be seen on the helmets as the teams warm up.
The drum major of the pep band climbs a step ladder, turns around, and calls for the attention of members in the band, who are standing on temporary bleachers. She motions for them to begin playing their instruments to the tune of the first arrangement. A small cheer breaks out in the crowd. The pep band plays what sound like three quick songs in a row.
The inside of a locker room before a football game is a sight to behold.
By now, Campbell’s entire team has taken the field for pregame warm-ups. They’ve seen the crowd beginning to form. They’ve heard the band warming up. They’ve sized up their competition.
And up until today, they’ve spent the entire spring and summer preparing for this moment. All that separates them from the opening kickoff and those first hits is 17 minutes.
Some use this time to get vocal.
Sophomore linebacker Matt Farris is getting in the face of his fellow linebackers in front of their lockers. He’s an underclassman, but tonight he sounds like a senior.
“This is our house. This is our defense,” he says, multiple times to multiple players. “Let’s go do what we gotta do.”
Farris would later lay the first good lick on Shorter’s quarterback five minutes after kick-off … forcing an incompletion. Those same linebackers he fired up before the game are the first to congratulate him on the field.
Junior running back Kurt Odom prefers to remain quiet. Though whatever is playing in his iPod is anything but quiet. Odom closes his eyes and “rocks out” … the music barely audible to teammates despite the earbuds.
Meanwhile, head coach Dale Steele is pacing the locker room, repeating the words “focus” and “no distractions” over and over to anyone within earshot.
With still a few minutes before gametime, Steele calls the troops to the center of the locker room and delivers a short but fiery pep talk.
“We left yesterday!” Steele bellows, referring to the 2012 team’s motto pulled from a Gen. George Patton quote from World War II. As the story goes, then Chief of Staff Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower called Patton thinking he was three days away from the line with reinforcements during the Battle of the Bulge. Patton expected the call and was already on his way, telling Eisenhower, “We left yesterday.”
It’s a team motto used by the Rockwall (Texas) Yellow Jackets and the Southern Methodist University Mustangs … not coincidentally, teams that once included Campbell quarterback Braden Smith.
Outside, two young women approach the merchandise trailer at the stadium that the campus bookstore operates. One of the young women asks for a small size of one of the 10 or so styles of T-shirts available.
Morgan Nida, who’s employed at the bookstore, tells her, “I’m sorry. We’re sold out of that size.”
Morgan adds they’ve had a steady stream of activity, with the orange T-shirts selling the best.
“And this year,” says senior Kristina McGovern, who is in her second year as a student worker at the bookstore, “we have more merchandise.”
The more merchandise includes more T-shirt styles and the return of the foam finger, which had been sidelined for the past couple of years. This year, the numbers of the senior football players also serve as markers that fans can use to tell Morgan and Kristina which baseball cap they want to purchase.
“I attended a Division 3 school, so this is a little different for me, a little more excitement,” says Morgan, who is decked out in orange pants and a black Campbell shirt.
A student walks up to the trailer and asks for directions to a particular section. Morgan points ahead and says, “You see that girl in the orange shirt there … Wait! I can’t believe I just said that. There’s a lot of orange here. It’s a good scene.”
A group of about a dozen students head toward a ramp to sit in the student section near the scoreboard. An event attendant standing near the section calls out to them, “This section is full. You’re not going to find any more seating.”
The group turns around.
Some head over the student section near the other end zone, and most head to the side to stand in the grass with a crowd of other students.
It’s 10 minutes until kickoff, and Barker-Lane Stadium is filling up fast.
The 2012 Campbell football season officially begins with Campbell kicking off. The Camel doing the kicking is senior Sam Eberwein, who earned the starting role this year after three years on the Campbell squad. In those three years, Eberwein was a three-time member of the Pioneer Football League’s honor roll for his work in the classroom, and he has served on Campbell’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. He’s also active in campus and community service.
Campbell Athletics featured Eberwein this week … you can read the Q&A here.
Campbell’s first offensive possession has an ominous start. Jonathan Rogers fumbles after a completed pass from Smith, and Shorter’s Demery Hawkins picks up the loose ball and returns it to the Campbell 38-yard-line. Five minutes later, at 7:12 p.m., Shorter’s Eric Dodson barrels into the end zone from the 2 to make it 7-0, Hawks.
Off the field, Josh Owens - a 2011 Campbell graduate who was a tight end on the squad from 2008 through 2010 - is helping man a table selling memberships for the Fighting Camel Club near the main entrance to the stadium.
A graduate student in business administration and the Divinity School, Owens is keeping track of the play on the field by listening to the fan reaction and the P.A. system.
“I’ll sneak a peek every once in a while, and we’ll close up after halftime,” Josh says. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen as large as a presence of students here. The energy is electric.”
That electricity goes out again, though not literally.
Campbell fumbles again on its second possession.
Barker-Lane Stadium is much quieter than it was 17 minutes ago.
Shorter leads 7-0. A young man in the student section near the scoreboard yells, “Run the Wildcat!”
A play or two later, Campbell fumbles for the third time in three possessions, and the Hawks recover it. The same young man yells, “Hold on to the ball! Man, we paid for these lights for no reason!”
A small group of male students begin to walk up the ramp to sit in the student section. The student in the lead of the group takes a look across the bleachers to find a spot for him and his friends to sit.
“There’s nowhere to sit,” he says. A friends says, “We probably should have come a little earlier.”
They sit on the ramps’ handrails to watch the game.
Shorter marches into Campbell territory after the third fumble, thanks to a 45-yard completion that puts them at the Camel 15-yard line. The Campbell defense holds and forces a 28-yard field goal try. Shorter’s Troy Postell nails it, and the Hawks lead 10-0.
Campbell fumbles for the fourth time in the opening quarter. Shorter again threatens to score five minutes later, but the Camel defense stops them on 4th-and-1 at Campbell’s 12-yard-line.
The Camel offense responds with two deep passes, one to junior receiver Jonathan Rogers and the other to sophomore Jabri Ridenhour. Eberwein’s 32-yard field goal caps a 74-yard drive and puts Campbell on the board.
They trail 10-3.
With 5:24 left in the first half, Campbell is driving again.
Photographer Will Bratton, a Campbell alum who recently had his work published in Sports Illustrated, is sitting in the end zone closest to the Athletics Complex surrounded by multiple cameras and lenses.
He’s been shooting since the tailgating, and almost halfway through the game, he’s getting tired.
But he likes this evening start.
“I’m glad it’s not a million degrees out here,” he says with a smile.
A minute later, Eberwein misses a field goal.
Campbell wastes no time getting the ball back and is again driving in an attempt to tie the game.
The P.A. announcer reveals the winner of the Campbell’s Best Fan of the Second Quarter, and the honor goes to sophomore Jonathan Boggs of Holly Springs.
It’s a good honor for the young man, dressed in a reflective vest usually worn by road crews and a “drinking hat” carrying two cans of Sprite. But it’s not the biggest honor he’s received for being a big Camel fan.
Last spring, Boggs was named the Advance Auto Parts Big South Conference Basketball Fan of the Year, an honor that netted him a $500 gift certificate to the auto parts chain and tickets to the women’s title game.
Boggs responds with to the announcement with a loud “whoo!” … one of many he’s shouted throughout the night.
With Campbell at Shorter’s 9-yard-line with 25 seconds left in the first half, quarterback Smith rolls right, dodges a few would-be tacklers and connects with Rogers in the end zone. An extra point later, the score is tied at 10-10 heading into halftime.
Many thought Shorter would be a certain “win” when they looked at the schedule over the summer and noticed the school was new to Division II football in 2012.
But not Coach Steele.
At halftime, despite the four fumbles and overall sloppy play, Steele is upbeat and positive with his players … many of whom aren’t looking quite as positive.
“You’ve gotta keep slugging it, and that’s what you’ve done,” Steele tells the team. “You just keep doing it guys. Keep playing, defense. You’re getting better, and you’re getting used to it. Offense, protect the football, and you’ll get your opportunities to score.”
Steele pauses a moment and and looks his team in the eyes.
“Guys, we’re OK,” he says. “We knew this was going to be a dogfight. They’re a good football team. Let’s just keep going after it. Keep your head up, let’s get our corrections made, and let’s go out and play the best half of football you can play.”
It’s halftime, and there’s little room to move near the concession stands as people hover around waiting for their time to order. A worker snakes his way through the crowd carrying chicken sandwiches. A man spots him and says loudly, “Hey, that’s what I’m looking for! How do I get one of those sandwiches?”
A woman nearby answers for the worker, “Wait in line like the rest of us.”
Just past the concession stand, standing near the fence that borders the stadium, is an older man holding a baby. It’s Michael Chandler, the father of Campbell defensive back and senior Brandon Chandler. In Michael’s arms is his granddaughter and Brandon’s infant daughter, Aubrey.
She attended the spring game, but this is her first official game.
“I’m enjoying every minute of this. The atmosphere is good for everyone, including this little one [Aubrey],” Michael says, with a scratchy voice. “I feel good about where we’re at. We didn’t have the best first half, but we’re tied. In the second half, we’re going to take it to them. We’re going to be in full control.”
And what about Aubrey? Is she keeping up with the action?
“She’s been doing well,” Michael says. “She’s been keeping her eyes on the lights.”
On the other side of the field, not far from the President’s Box and the small gathering of Shorter fans is Campbell dad Glenn Heard.
Heard has a daughter in the band, and he’s a big fan of Campbell Athletics.
Like most at Barker-Lane this night, Heard is upbeat after Campbell tied it 10-10 just before the half. He’s also liking the atmosphere.
“It’s a bigger crowd, and of course, it’s cooler outside. I’m liking that,” he says. “You can see the whole populace is really getting into this game. I just think [playing at night] is much better.”
He wasn’t in the locker room for Steele’s speech, but his thoughts on the first half echo the coach’s.
“I feel really good about the second half,” he says. “We had several opportunities to score in the first half, but we had four fumbles. Still, we’ve stayed in it, and [Shorter] is playing us touch. We can pull this off. We can make it happen.”
The night finally seems to be going Campbell’s way.
The Camels took the second-half kickoff and marched 76 yards to the Shorter 2.
Odom, the young man with the iPod before the game, launches himself into the end zone less than three minutes into the half to give Campbell a 17-10 lead.
The play of the game.
Also, the loudest moment of the game.
Trailing by 7, Shorter responds with an impressive drive, converting a pair of fourth downs to get inside the Campbell 10. But the Camel defense is able to stop Shorter on three consecutive plays, leading to a 4th-and-goal at the 2-yard-line.
If Campbell is able to make the stop, they keep a 7-point lead and tons of momentum.
If Shorter is able to punch it in, they tie it and quiet the crowd.
As they approach the line of scrimmage, Barker-Lane Stadium is at its loudest point of the night. Standing on the field not far from the action, it’s difficult to hear the Shorter quarterback Eric Dodson bark his cadence.
Dodson gets the snap, hands it to fullback Bradley Moon, who dives in carrying a few Camel defenders. It’s 17-17.
The crowd noise drops to a whisper.
There’s a reason Barker-Lane sounds louder than usual.
It’s announced that the crowd of 5,130 is the third largest in the stadium’s history.
Only the crowd for Campbell's first Division I game vs. Birmingham-Southern five years ago to the day (5,845), and a Sept. 11, 2010 date against Old Dominion (5,462) saw Campbell’s home facility packed fuller.
Campbell takes a 20-17 lead on a 44-yard field goal by Eberwein … a kick that cleared the uprights by a good 15 yards.
It would be Campbell’s last lead of the night with 12:11 left in the game.
Shorter takes the lead for good on a 61-yard pass play from Dodson to running back Brandon Morton. Morton would be the star of the night with 102 yards rushing, 107 yards receiving and three touchdowns.
Campbell’s fifth fumble of the night at the Shorter 25-yard line puts their comeback effort to a screeching halt.
Deflated after the fumble, the Campbell defense watches Morton run it in from 61 yards out (the same distance of his previous catch). It’s 31-20 Shorter with 4:47 left in the game.
Fans begin heading for the exits.
Shorter 31, Campbell 20.
Students and fans begin to head to the exits. The entire football team darts to the end zone near the field house and stands in front of the pep band, which begins playing the alma mater. Students look on.
Among them is sophomore Sara Moore, who stood near the band’s bleachers much of the game.
“It’s a little disappointing the team lost, but I don’t come to the games just to see the team win,” Moore says. “It’s fun, it’s a good atmosphere, and I get to spend time with friends. I come because it’s about the community.”
About 100 to 150 people have made their way to the end of the stadium near the field house. They’re waiting near the exit where the players will come out. Among the crowd are parents, siblings, friends, fans and students. Mostly, they talk about the game.
The chatter is coming from every direction.
“You can’t win if you’ve got five turnovers. It’s like baseball. In baseball, you’re not going to win if you’ve got five errors. Same thing with football.”
“From my angle, it looked like he made the catch. I guess we’ll have to look at the film and see.”
“As many giveaways as we had, really, we shouldn’t have even been in the game.”
“It’s just the first game. They’ll get better.”
A player exits the field house. The crowd is quiet. He walks toward a group of people, a mix of adults and what looks like students. A few people hug him; not much is said. A few moments later, another player walks out. He looks around, trying to spot somebody. A man spots him first, and as he starts to jog over, he yells, “Right here, son.”
The father puts his arm around the son’s shoulder, and they walk off toward the parking lot.
In the parking lot, about a half-dozen adults sit in chairs under a tailgate tent while two men play corn hole nearby. They are all parents of players, and they’re waiting for their sons to exit the field house.
“We enjoyed the time we got to spend with each other. It was neat to be under the lights. And we’re proud of our boys,” says one of the parents, Bruce Collins, the father of linebacker and redshirt freshman Kevin Collins.
“The outcome just wasn’t so good.”
Once his son comes out, Bruce says, he’ll tell him, “I’m proud of your effort.”
Then, he’ll take him out to eat.
"I've been coaching a long, long time, and I only know one way to do things," Steele tells the local media. "When things don't go the way you want them to go, when something like this hits you in the face, you get up, put your face in the north wind and you correct those things and you get better."
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