When the Florida A&M Rattlers (2-2 overall, 1-1 MEAC) head into the Georgia Dome to face the Tennessee State Tigers (2-2) 3 p.m. Saturday, they’ll want to do something that they have struggled with this season – play well for the entire game.
“We have to start fast and continue to finish strong,” said Rattler head coach Rubin Carter.
The Rattlers’ struggle to overcome slow starts extends back to their come-from-behind victory over Bethune-Cookman in last year’s Florida Classic.
The trend continued in last week’s win against Winston-Salem State, a game in which the Rattlers found themselves on the wrong side of the scoreboard before scoring a game-winning touchdown in the final minute.
“We definitely didn’t make it easy on ourselves. But I don’t think we ever do,” Carter said.
The team has been down at halftime in its last five games, dating back to the end of last season.
But judging from last week’s comeback, the team isn’t opposed to pulling a rabbit out of its helmets to get a victory.
“With such an inexperienced group and a young group, it’s good to know that they can go through adverse situations and persevere,” Carter said.
Junior linebacker Vernon Wilder said the team adopted the attitude of its head coach.
“We have come up to coach Carter’s no-lose personality,” said the team’s leading tackler.
The team will take that resilience into Atlanta this weekend as they prepare to take on the Tennessee State Tigers in the Atlanta Football Classic.
Last year’s contest was another nail biter as the Rattlers managed to sneak out of the Georgia Dome with a 12-7 win.
Late game tension is not unusual at the classic, as the last three contests have come down to fourth-quarter dramatics. Last year’s game came down to a fourth down interception by former Rattler defensive lineman, Steve St. Felix, that preserved the Rattler victory.
That gave the Rattlers their fourth straight victory at the classic and a 24-21 series edge.
Stopping big run plays will be a point of emphasis for the Rattler defense this week after giving up 272 rushing yards against Winston-Salem State University.
“We should keep the attitude that nobody is going to run on us,” Wilder said. “We showed we can stop the run, but now we just have to maintain it.”
Last year’s sack leader, junior defensive end Tyrone McGriff, will look to get back to his old form after going the first four games without a sack.
“The first few games, I was just trying too hard,” McGriff said. And when you try too hard, that’s when you mess up. I just have to stick with my assignments.”
On the offensive side of the ball, the Rattlers will look to maintain their penchant for making big plays.
“Guys like Willie Hayward and Roosevelt Kiser have shown that they can make critical catches for us in tough situations. Hopefully, they can continue to do that for us,” Carter said.
In his six-catch, 114-yard performance against WSSU, including a crucial 44-yard grab that put the Rattlers in prime position to score, Hayward proved he is a dangerous weapon against the Rattlers’ opponents.
Overall, Carter said he is confident heading into the rivalry game.
“If we minimize turnovers and penalties, we have a chance to build a good football team.”