For FAMU, the playoffs start Saturday in Orlando, at the 23rd Walt Disney World Florida Classic, presented by State Farm Insurance.
The Rattlers’ only chance of making the Division I-AA playoffs is to win the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. Standing in their way is their archrival Bethune-Cookman.
FAMU (7-4, 5-2), which seemed like a long shot to win its third straight conference title a month ago, had to have some unlikely circumstances occur to be in its current position. With losses to South Carolina State and Howard earlier this season, and a B-CC (10-1, 6-1) team that seemed like it just wouldn’t lose, the Rattlers needed S.C. State to lose two games, Howard to lose two games and the Wildcats to lose one game to have a shot at the title. FAMU also needed to win all of its remaining conference games.
So far, these things have happened.
“It’s about time we had things go our way,” tackle Fletcher Williams said.
Not many things have gone FAMU’s way this season. At the beginning of the year the Rattlers were one of the favorites to not only win a conference title but to win a national championship. But the team has been decimated by injuries to several key players all season.
Just when the team looked like it was getting healthier senior quarterback Casey Printers, who has already missed time in seven games with a high ankle sprain, fractured the thumb on his throwing hand in the loss to Troy State two weeks ago and is out for the classic, and likely the playoffs, should FAMU make it.
“We will definitely miss Casey, no question about it,” FAMU coach Billy Joe said.
“But I have complete confidence in our quarterback situation. Reggie [Hayes] is an outstanding backup.”
Hayes is 2-1 as a starter this season and also has a come-from-behind victory against Norfolk State under his belt.
With FAMU coming off a bye- week, the receivers have had extra time to practice with Hayes.
“We’ve had the past two weeks to get it together with Reggie,” receiver Charlie Allen said. “We’re putting together a great game plan for Bethune.”
B-CC quarterback Allen Suber may be the best player in Division I-AA, according to Joe and many of the Rattler players.
He is one of the leading candidates for the Walter Payton award, Division I-AA’s Heisman Trophy. He is in the top three in the conference in rushing yards, rushing yards per game, passing yards per game, pass efficiency, total yards and total offense.
Suber has plenty of talent surrounding him. Receiver Erik Lash has been Suber’s favorite receiver this season. Lash is one of the top receivers in the conference with 51 catches for 767 yards and seven touchdowns.
On defense, safety RaShean Mathis leads Division I-AA in interceptions, a spot once held by FAMU safety Levy Brown, before he injured his shoulder a month ago and was forced to sit out three games.
“I’m happy for [RaShean],” Brown said. “Maybe I could be leading the division if I didn’t get hurt, but I just wasn’t meant to, not yet.”
Those who are involved in this rivalry have compared it to the one between Florida and Florida State.
There is a genuine dislike between the two teams,so for many of the players, this game is as big as it gets.
“We’re not getting any respect from them, even though we won the last two conference titles,” said Williams, as he held up his hand showing the two championship rings. “If we go 0-10, and we beat B-CC, then we had a great season.”