Just like in the 2001 Orange Bowl Classic in Jacksonville, Saturday’s game at Bragg Memorial Stadium against South Carolina State was filled with a multitude of Rattler mistakes.
Unlike last year’s 33-27 loss, the Bulldogs took advantage of all the Rattler miscues, mainly their six turnovers, and ran away with a 31-13 win.
They also took advantage of the absence of junior free safety Levy Brown, who was leading the Rattlers in tackles (36) and interceptions (7) coming in to Saturday’s game.
Early in the first quarter on SCSU’s first drive, Brown suffered a game-ending shoulder injury after being beaten for a touchdown on a 6-yard fade by Bulldog’s receiver Terrance Metcalf.
Every Rattler drive in the first half was halted, not due to a great Bulldogs’ defensive stand, but to Rattler mistakes.
“We had no problem moving the football [in the first half], it was just a holding penalty, or an off-sides, or an illegal shift, or a fumble, or an interception. Something would happen that would kill the drive,” said senior quarterback Casey Printers who made his return to the starting lineup after missing two games with a high ankle sprain.
On the Rattlers’ second possession of the game, Printers fumbled while being sacked by defensive lineman Eugene Williams. On the Rattlers third possession, senior wide receiver Dennis Bonga fumbled the ball while dragging several Bulldogs into the end zone. And then on the Rattlers fourth possession, it was sophomore running back Devvin Richardson’s turn to fumble, which he did with 5:05 left in the first quarter. Printers also threw an interception which ended the Rattlers’ sixth drive in the first half.
“From an offensive standpoint, we were playing like an old rusty piano,” said head coach Billy Joe. “Each player was taking turns making mistakes.”
While the Rattler offense was in a first half disarray, the Bulldogs, led by quarterback Reese McCampbell, were executing their balanced offense in total cohesion. McCampbell passed for 160 yards, with two more touchdown passes to Metcalf, a 28-yarder and a 60-yard bomb down the sidelines.
“That’s our job to capitalize on mistakes,” said Metcalf, who had three receptions, all touchdowns, for 93 yards in the Bulldogs’ huge win.
McCampbell also shredded through the Rattler defensive front for 84 first half rushing yards. Amidst the superb performance by McCampbell, the Rattler defense never stopped charging.
“It’s all right here,” screamed defensive back Marco Williams to his teammates as he was pointing to his heart after the defense forced SCSU to punt early in the second quarter.
Right before the half, Printers limped off the field, after passing for 155 yards on eight completions and an interception. With his left shoe completely off, he left grimacing in pain after being sacked five times, and the rest of his teammates soon followed him into to the locker room down 31-0 at halftime.
Coach Joe had pulled Printers, so back-up quarterback Reggie Hayes took the helm at quarterback for last drive of the first half and the entire second half. Hayes shot out of the gate with a 95-yard drive, which culminated in a 13-yard touchdown pass to Rod Miller, but unfortunately he followed that up with two interceptions on the Rattlers next two possessions. Hayes finished the game with 66 yards through the air and 77 on the ground, with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
A dominating and gutsy performance by the Rattler defense in the second half made the game exciting at times, but too much damage had already been done. They shutout the Bulldogs in the second half because they derailed the Bulldogs’ two locomotives as McCampbell combined for only 34 yards (17 rushing, 17 passing) of total offense, while he couldn’t find Metcalf open for a single catch.
“We made a slight adjustment in the front and the coverage, which seemed to confuse [Metcalf],” said defensive back Shedrick Copeland, who guarded him for most of the second half.
Those two derailments gave life to Bulldogs’ running back Trevin Smith, who rushed for 77 yards (111 for the game), in the second half. And as he ran so did the clock, which destroyed the Rattlers comeback hopes.
“They deserved to win because they were the better team tonight,” coach Joe said after the game with a dismal look on his face.
Next week the Rattlers (4-2, 2-1) will hope to rebound against the Howard Bison in the second game of the Rattlers three-game home stand.