Victories for the Florida A&M Rattlers (5-3 overall, 3-2 MEAC) have not always been pretty this year, but they have always been nail-biters.
A 24-23 homecoming win over the Morgan State University Bears (4-5 overall, 3-3 MEAC) Saturday stayed true to this formula.
The Rattlers treated the 24,190 fans in attendance to another thrilling fourth quarter performance as they put a cap on their victory in the game’s closing minutes.
The FAMU defense showed that it could bend but not break as they came up with game-saving plays when it mattered most.On offense, the Rattlers looked to exploit the Bears’ secondary early. FAMU’s first scoring drive came on a seven-play, 80-yard drive that saw redshirt junior quarterback Albert Chester II throw his way to the end zone.
A 35-yard touchdown strike to junior wide receiver Willie Hayward capped the drive.
“We saw some match-ups that we thought we could take advantage of early,” said head coach Rubin Carter of the team’s game plan.
Chester enjoyed a big first half performance.
He completed 15 of 20 passes for 198 yards.
The Bears responded quickly to the Rattler touchdown with a four-play, 49-yard drive that led to a 32-yard touchdown run by junior running back Chad Simpson.
Simpson led the Bears’ rushing attack with 130 yards on 20 carries. Simpson punished a Rattler defense that was without senior defensive tackle Chris Wooten and junior defensive end Tyrone McGriff, both starters out with injuries.
“We were without a lot of key players. We had some young players who had to step up and perform and really grow up quick,” Carter said.
Down 14-7, the Rattlers put together an 80-yard drive that ended with a seven-yard touchdown scamper by Chester.
Another touchdown throw from Chester to senior wide receiver Roosevelt Kiser, with less than a minute to go in the first half, put the Rattlers up 21-14, their first halftime lead this season.Early in the third quarter, Chester suffered an injury after a fumble. The injury kept the quarterback from finishing the big game he anticipated.
“I have been itching to have one of those (a big passing game) all year,” Chester said. He left the game with 217 yards and two touchdowns on 16 of 21 attempts.
Backup quarterback junior Leon Camel replaced Chester early in the third. Camel had 76 yards on 6 of 13 passes and led the team with 42 rushing yards on six carries.
Senior wide receiver Roosevelt Kiser said the team is comfortable with both quarterbacks.
“The switch at quarterback may set us back for a series or two, but it is nice to have two quarterbacks who lead our team,” Kiser said.
The Bears clawed their way back into the game with an early fourth quarter touchdown to sophomore tight end Rhonnie Sykes. The score tied the game at 21.
After a 35-yard scramble by Camel, the Rattlers settled for a 20-yard Wesley Taylor field goal. This gave FAMU a 24-21 lead.Late in the fourth quarter, Morgan State put together a 12-play, 79-yard drive that put them inches away from the end zone.
“We knew it was time to man up and make a big play. We had to forget about the last play and focus on the next one,” said freshman defensive lineman Cameron Houston.
The Rattler defense did just that, as redshirt sophomore Vernon Wilder and junior linebacker Dannel Shepard stopped Simpson on a fourth-and-inches play.
Controversy over the ball spot drew the indignation of Bears head coach Donald Hill-Eley.
“I don’t think we got one good call all game. I talked to the officials after the game. They said they looked at it closely, but it looked to me like we got in,” Hill-Eley said.
After the stop the Rattlers failed to get out of the end zone, resulting in a safety that pulled the Bears within one.
But a solid punt by Taylor, a junior, put the Bears deep in their own territory with a little more than a minute to go. An interception by junior defensive back Gregory Clark after a tip by redshirt freshman linebacker Michael McMillan on second down sealed the victory for the Rattlers.
Carter said the Rattlers do not prefer slim margins of victory, but he is happy with the results.
“We are gaining experience and creating an identity for ourselves. We will fight until the very last second,” Carter said.