Inside the SIX quarters of an HBCU football game

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It’s 11:28 p.m. when the Ocean of SoulMarching Storm and the remaining fans begin to exit Shell Energy Stadium following the conclusion of the fifth quarter. The fifth quarter is unlike anything you’ve likely experienced at a college football game, and it marks the end of nearly five and a half hours of nonstop action.

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The sound is impressive as the bands begin filing into the stadium at 6 p.m. The bass drums reverberate throughout the concourse, playing a rhythm that lets everyone inside know it’s showtime. 

I quickly exit the press box and as I open the door, I see the Texas Southern band, the Ocean of Soul, marching to their seats. The scene is spectacular, with fans forming a tunnel. Many fans are recording the entrance with their phones while others dance. At the other end of the stadium, the PVAMU Marching Storm is marching to their seats, surrounded by Panthers fans wanting to catch a glimpse of the band.

Every movement from when the band enters the stadium until their exit is choreographed. But the most impressive part is that every move and action is by memory. That’s right. Every movement of every band member over their five-and-a-half-hour performance is from memory.

I head down to the field to take in the sound of both bands during zero quarter, which some might call the ‘warm-up.’ But it’s not like any warm-up I’ve witnessed at any other football game at every level. Each song brings an energy that the players feel as they prepare for the game.

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The "Zero Quarter" and "Fifth Quarter" are still relatively new to HBCU football games. Ocean of Soul director Brian Simmons explained the addition of the Zero and Fifth quarters began around 15-20 years ago, while some people claim the tradition started in the mid-90s.

“The bands have to be early to get set up in the stands, and that leaves all this time on the clock that we weren’t using,” Simmons said. “So it was like, ‘Let’s slug it out and start something.’ The bands are the ones that decided to call it the Zero quarter and Fifth quarter.”

While speaking with Simmons, the Ocean of Soul begins to crescendo into an impressive sound that caught the band director's and myself's attention. We share a glance, and Simmons says, “Impressive, isn’t it.” I affirm my surprise at the control exhibited by the band while playing at such a loud volume.

“We drive the culture. We cheer on the team, and we wake everybody up to support them,” Simmons said. “We represent the school. Win, lose, or draw, we’re the ones everybody can connect with and support.”

How much time during the week does the band dedicate during the week to perform every movement from memory?

“We have no cap like the football team does. We practice four to five hours a day. We try to work around our student’s schedules and try to find an easy medium or balance for them,” Simmons said. “Unlike in sports, everything we do is from memory. I don’t have a whiteboard to draw on. When we get on the bus, they gotta know the assignment.”

– – – 

On the field, Prairie View A&M and Texas Southern battle to a 17-17 tie at halftime. With roughly four minutes remaining in the second quarter, I hear someone in the press box mention how the 18,271 in attendance are beginning to find their seats. One person mentions the sun going down as a possible cause. Yet another person likely hit on the actual cause of the fans heading to their seats - the halftime show, which is my cue to head back down to the field.

The Marching Storm takes the field following a presentation to last year’s men’s basketball program that won the SWAC Tournament and to the cheer team, who claimed the National Cheerleaders Association national championship in the Cheer Spirit Rally Division I category.

The announcer introduced the band and elicited a reaction from the large contingent of Tigers fans when she said, “After we beat you in this game, we’ll meet you in the fifth quarter.”

When the Ocean of Soul took the field, Simmons sent a message to the PVAMU announcer.

“It’s about time you stopped talking,” Simmons said before handing the mic over to the emcee for the Ocean of Soul, who only had six minutes before needing to clear the field.

The halftime shows didn’t disappoint.

Both bands were incredible, and the energy in the stands was palpable. Everywhere I looked, I witnessed people dancing and enjoying themselves. Even TSU quarterback Andrew Body was dancing between making throws to his teammate in preparation for the second half.

– – – 

The second half didn’t disappoint. Texas Southern took advantage of a Panther fumble to take a 24-17 lead early in the third quarter. On the first play following the fumble, Body threw a dot over the shoulder of the defender and into the hands of Jackson State transfer Quay Davis, who displayed tremendous body control to get one foot in bounds in the end zone.

Trazon Connley led PVAMU on a touchdown drive in the final two minutes of regulation to send the game into overtime. The Tigers had first possession, but the Panthers defense didn’t allow a single yard on three plays. TSU attempted a 42-yard field goal that appeared on line but fell three yards short of the crossbar. 

The Panthers offense gashed an exhausted TSU defense and set up Carlos Villagomez, who nailed a 35-yard field goal to send PVAMU to a 37-34 overtime victory -  its eighth consecutive against the Tigers. 

– – – 

The Fifth Quarter began after the trophy was presented to the Panthers for the ninth time in the last 10 meetings, a streak not lost on the Texas Southern faithful. I make my way to the interview room and to a seat while awaiting the appearance of both head coaches. Despite being in the bowels of the stadium, I was pleasantly surprised to be able to hear the Ocean of Soul perform during the Fifth Quarter.

“The Fifth Quarter is when it’s our time to show what we’ve been working on. It’s still time to show musical superiority over your opponent,” Simmons said. “The people who stick around for the Fifth Quarter get a deep dive into what these bands really do. You get more eclectic material and things from different genres.

“Our mission during the game is to keep people hyped and engaged in the game, so we play stuff that will get the fans to respond. But it’s the fifth quarter when we start educating people.”

Every HBCU game is a competition between the bands. How do they decide on a winner?

“We decide we’re the winner the moment we step off the bus,” Simmons said. “It’s all about planning and preparation. Like in sports, it’s all about a good offense. We don’t play defense.”

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