After a 25-21 comeback win over the Winston-Salem State Rams (1-3), no one is more familiar with the phrase “better late than never” than the Florida A&M University Rattler (2-2 overall, 1-1 MEAC) football team.
The team battled back from a 14-3 deficit at halftime to pull out a breathtaking victory.
“There is nothing better than that. To have a bad first half and come back and put things together really feels good,” said junior linebacker Vernon Wilder, who led the defense with nine tackles.
“We knew what time it was as soon as we got down. We have been here too many times,” Wilder said.
The team went down early after the Rams struck the first blow with a 12-play, 80-yard drive sparked by a 25-yard run by senior fullback Jonathan Wedlock. Rams redshirt junior quarterback Monte Purvis capped the drive with a 7-yard touchdown run.
Big running plays proved to be a problem for the Rattlers in the first half. Rams redshirt freshman running back Brandon McRae broke a 52-yard burst on WSSU’s opening drive.
“We were just missing ourassignments that’s all. They had a couple of big plays,” said freshman defensive lineman Cameron Houston.
After watching the Rams run for 171 yards in the first half, the Rattler defense could not allow similar numbers in the second half.
“Big plays were really a factor. A lot of times we were in a position to make tackles. We just have to be better terminators on defense,” said Rubin Carter, head football coach.In the second half, the team zeroed in on the Rams’ running game, especially when it mattered most.
“In the second half, we were determined to stop the run.” Wilder said.
The Rattler comeback was sparked by an early third quarter fumble recovery by Houston. The freshman standout returned the ball 9 yards for a score.
“I really didn’t do anything special; I just went after the ball. It was nice to celebrate with my team after my first college touchdown,” Houston said.”He made a great play that I think really turned the game around,” Carter said.
Carter also made a game changing play himself when he gave backup QB Leon Camel the chance to line up under center with six minutes to go in the third.
“We wanted to put Leon in to kind of energize our team,” Carter said. Camel completed six of nine passes for 79 yards.
A solid defensive effort and three missed field goals by Rams kicker Marvin Umanzor set the stage for a comeback. Rattlers redshirt junior quarterback Albert Chester II found himself in a familiar position.
“All I have to say is ‘Florida Classic 2005.’ I did it before,” said Chester, in reference to his penchant for leading his team’s late rally attempts. FAMU had to overcome a 21-10 deficit in the fourth quarter.
“We never start out good. We always give you a heart attack at the end,” said Chester, who finished the game with 187 passing yards and a team high 60 rushing yards.
The Rattlers pulled within a field goal after Chester’s two-yard touchdown run and two-point conversion throw to junior wide receiver Willie Hayward.
After a WSSU punt, the Rattlers took over with two minutes and 51 seconds to go. With a sea of 13,627 orange and green fans on the edges of their seats, the Rattlers put together a thrilling last run.
A 44-yard bomb to Hayward from Chester on third-and-10 kept the most important drive of the game alive. A 14-yard toss to Taj Jenkines from Chester put FAMU one yard from the end zone.
With 36 seconds left, running back Anthony Edwards tumbled in for the score on a pitch from Chester.
“When you’re inches from the goal line, you can’t be denied. You have to get in there,” Edwards said.
An interception by freshman free safety Anthony Johnson closed out the home opener.
“We played a good game tonight, but we gave it away. I have to take my hat off to FAMU. They made the big plays,” said WSSU head coach Kermit Blount.
Despite the Rattlers’ slow start, its resolve and perseverance put them over the top, Carter said. FAMU will meet Tennessee State in the Atlanta Football Classic Saturday at 3 p.m.