The Florida A&M University Rattlers met the Morgan State University Bears for the 23rd time in team history, on homecoming Saturday. MSU broke the Rattlers impressive three game winning streak in a devastating 13-10 loss.
The opening kick-off was returned 59 yards by electrifying defensive back LeRoy Vann. Junior quarterback Eddie Battle, led the offense onto the field with hopes of repeating the special team success. Calling a mixture of pass and run plays, the Rattler offense was forced into an early punt situation.
MSU managed to convert on a 1:41 play drive, ending with a 35-yard field goal. With the score 3-0 early in the 1st quarter, the Rattlers’ focus shifted to redemption. Wide receiver Kevin Elliot added to the increase of the passing success, with two catches for 38 yards in the first quarter.
MSU running back Devan James currently ranks as the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference leading rusher averaging 122.2 yards per game. Against the Bears offense, the Rattler defense seemed vulnerable to the run. Three MSU players combined rushed yards for a total of 54 yards in the first quarter.
Quarterbacks Eddie Battle and Curtis Pulley, alternated throughout the early minutes of the second quarter. Both Rattler quarterbacks were unable to create a productive drive.
“If your defense holds a team to 13 points you would expect the offense to score more than what we did,” Battle said. “I just feel like our offensive performance wasn’t enough.”
The Bears shifty sophomore running back, Devan James, was able to carve holes within the Rattler secondary. Unable to factor in their passing game, MSU continued to run the ball. It was seven plays for 44 yards, which resulted in a touchdown for the Bears, increasing the score 10-0.
Quarterback Curtis Pulley, led the Rattler offense, following the Bears touchdown. The Rattler offensive line allowed Pulley enough time to find room in the MSU secondary to utilize his legs rather than his arm.
Seconds before the end of the first half, Pulley connected with sophomore Isaac West for a 25-yard pass near the goal line.
With the defense on his heels, running back Mykel Benson, flared out the backfield for a 3-yard touchdown reception, which brought the score to 10-7 at halftime.
Entering the third quarter, the Bears were unable to produce offensively due to the restraint placed on them by the Rattler defense.
Senior free safety Jason Beach was a wrecking ball in the defensive secondary with eight solo tackles. Defensively, the Rattlers forced 13 turnovers, two came from interceptions from linebacker Vernon Wilder and free safety Greg Harvey.
The Rattlers fell victim to 10 penalties resulting in a total loss of 86 yards. Late in the third quarter, a defensive turnover positioned the Rattler offense in a perfect red zone situation.
A pass for a touchdown was taken away because of an illegal procedure penalty on the Rattlers. Kicker Trevor Scott, split the uprights with a 37-yard field goal to tie the score 10-10.
“That penalty really took a lot of momentum from us,” said Adrian Smith, wide receiver. “It was a devastating part of the game knowing that they took points from us. I’m proud of how the offense fought back although we killed ourselves with penalties.”
Leading into the final quarter of play, MSU utilized their clock management skills and retained possession for a separated total of 10:17. Instead of airing the ball out, the Bears consistently fused the ground game into their play calling. Bears running back, Devan James, cleared 100 yards rushing having touched the ball over 25 times.
The Rattlers defense showed no signs of letting up, until a fake punt converted for a first down altered the game’s momentum.
“Defensively we stepped up as far as keeping our opponents stats to a minimum,” said defensive back Curtis Holcomb. “We knew it would be a defensive game. Our coaches warned us about the fake, but it caught us off guard and it really was a momentum change.”
Only seconds remained on the game clock when the MSU field goal unit took the field to attempt a 40-yard kick. With the crowd on their feet chanting “block that kick, block that kick,” the Bears kicker James Meade split the uprights, increasing the score 13-10.
The only sign of victory with less than 10 seconds on the clock, was in the hands of LeRoy Vann. Unfortunately his return of shifty footwork and speed only landed the Rattlers on the 50-yard line.
“I felt like I either had to score or just get the ball close enough so that the offense could do something with it,” Vann said. “The fact that I’m the single season kickoff return leader don’t change nothing its just a record at the end of the day we still lost as a team and that’s more important.”
The Rattlers can still keep their faint MEAC title hopes alive, despite adding another loss to their record. Next week the team travels to face North Carolina A&T University (3-6) for another MEAC battle.