Late-game heroics have been a calling card for the Florida A&M Rattlers (3-3, 1-2 MEAC) this season.
Unfortunately, the team dialed the wrong number Saturday in a 28-21 loss to the South Carolina State Bulldogs (3-3, 2-1 MEAC).
Sloppy first-half play and poor offensive production proved problematic as the Bulldogs snapped the Rattlers’ three-game winning streak.
“It’s like the same story, different chapter,” redshirt junior quarterback Albert Chester II said of the FAMU’s first-half woes. “It’s getting ridiculous now,” said Chester, who completed 18 of 32 passes for 193 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. SCS was in control for much of the game, thanks to a potent running game.
The Bulldogs gained 315 yards on the ground. Running backs DeShawn Baker and William Ford tallied 153 and 132 yards respectively.
“We knew we have two good running backs. We wanted to come in and run the ball and make hard for (FAMU) to get the ball back,” said South Carolina State head coach Oliver “Buddy” Pough of the team’s offensive strategy.
The Rattlers ended their first possession with a blocked punt that was returned for a touchdown by Travance Jackson. Bulldogs defensive back Phillip Adams blocked the Wesley Taylor attempt, and Jackson scooped up the loose ball and returned it four yards for the score.
Things got worse for the Rattlers as Chester struggled in the first half.
Chester fumbled early in the first quarter, a turnover that the Bulldogs failed to capitalize on.
After the fumble recovery, the Rattlers put together a 52-yard drive, putting them in field goal range. The Bulldogs attempted a fake field goal that junior linebacker Vernon Wilder stopped. But the Bulldogs didn’t miss the chance to turn a Chester interception into points midway through the first quarter. The Bulldogs’ interception by defensive back Markee Hamlin led to an 11-yard touchdown run by Baker that gave the Bulldogs a 14-0 lead going into the half.
The Rattlers are familiar with halftime deficits. The team has entered the third quarter of its last five games behind.FAMU proved to be its own worst enemy as mental errors stifled the team’s comeback attempts.
“We killed ourselves with dropped balls, missed assignments and penalties,” Wilder said.
Coach Carter said the team did more damage to itself than South Carolina State in the game.
“I always say you can’t win if you play two teams. And that is what we did today. We played South Carolina State, and we played ourselves,” Carter said.
Midway through the third quarter the Rattlers were down down 21-0 after a 59-yard touchdown run by Ford.
FAMU answered late in the third quarter on a Willie Hayward touchdown. The 17-yard toss from Albert Chester was the first of two touchdowns to the junior wide receiver.
“We were down most of the game, and my job when we are down like that is to make big plays,” Hayward said.
Coach Carter said Hayward’s mental growth has contributed to his emergence as one of the team’s main threats.
“He is a more disciplined player now. He has shown the ability to go get the jump ball. He is really doing the things we have expected him,” Carter said.
The Bulldogs opened up the fourth quarter with another touchdown from Ford, his second of the day. Anxious Rattler fans almost saw another patented Rattler comeback after Chester’s touchdown passes to junior wide receiver Ronald Wright and Willie Hayward cut the deficit to seven.
The score was 28-21 with a little more than a minute left to play in the game.
Despite the late scores, the Rattlers ran out of time as the Bulldogs held on to the ball and sealed the win.
“Coach told us there was going to be a team that wasn’t going to let us get out of the hole we dug for ourselves. Today they were that team,” Wilder said.
One bright spot for the Rattlers came in the form of freshman running back Deitric Henry, who led the team in rushing with 79 yards on 14 carries in his first career start.
“Anthony (Edwards) was a little banged up, so we wanted to give him a chance to rest. But I was very impressed with Henry’s ability to run the football,” Carter said.
After the disappointing loss, Coach Carter said he would analyze the team’s problem areas.
“We have to do some self evaluations of ourselves and our efforts. If players aren’t going to do the things we need to do we are going to have to make some changes,” Carter said.