On a chilly Saturday afternoon in Bragg Memorial Stadium, the (8-3) Florida A&M University Rattlers defeated (5-5) Hampton University 45-24 in a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference clash.
This victory was also a win for head coach Joe Taylor, who surpassed Hall of Fame legend Jake Gaither on the all time Black College coaches wins list.
It was fitting that it was against the team he coached just a year ago.
“I have respect for Jake Gaither on and off of the field.” Taylor said. “It feels good to be mentioned in the same sentence as him.”
This game marked the first time in 16 years, since his time at Virginia Union University that Joe Taylor walked the sidelines against HU.
“I told the guys at some point you have to understand that relationships are about life but it’s still a competition. It was a different, stressful but different,” Taylor said.
Curtis Pulley started the game as quarterback for the Rattlers.
The pass attack seemed to be most effective for the Rattlers thanks to a run game that was slow to surface.
The Rattlers first chance at scoring points was deferred as a field goal attempt was blocked by the Pirates defense.
Without hesitation the Hampton offense got off to an early start by testing the Rattlers defense on their first play.
A 47-yard catch set the Pirates up in the red zone for their first offensive touchdown.
As expected, single-season kick return yard leader Leroy Vann, lived up to the hype and racked up 156 yards on three returns in the first quarter.
The Rattler offense started each drive in great field position due to the success of the special team’s unit.
Down by a touchdown, Pulley led the Rattlers onto the field with hopes of capitalizing on their next possession.
Unable to cohesively produce the Rattler offense, they were forced into another fourth down situation.
Another blocked field goal by the Hampton defense left the Rattlers scoreless in the first quarter.
The Rattlers opened the second quarter with a huge momentum boosting pass and catch. With the ball in the red zone, Pulley opted to use his feet to get the offense into the end zone.
“We wanted to come out and execute,” Pulley said. “As a tribute to the coaching staff we wanted to come out and work hard.”
Following the Hampton field goal an 11-yard touchdown run by Pulley was all it took to get the offensive juices pumping.
With the score at (10-7) nearing halftime the Hampton offense focused primarily on the run to generate a productive drive.
Defensively the Rattlers weren’t giving up anything.
In effort to capitalize on the turnover opportunity, the Rattlers used their run to set themselves up in good field position.
With time winding down before the end of the half, Pulley rushed his way into the end zone for a touchdown and the lead.
With less than two minutes remaining on the game clock, the Rattlers defense forced the Pirates into another punt situation.
With the score at 14-10, FAMU had one more chance to increase the score before the half. The next drive for the Rattlers marked their third that took three plays in order to score a touchdown.
Curtis Pulley maneuvered the defense for a 30-yard touchdown increasing the score to 21-10 at halftime.
“Their defense never really sent any blitzes,” Pulley said. “My offensive line gave me enough time to find room. I give all the credit to the offensive line and receivers who blocked down field.”
Phillip Sylvester was a key to the Rattler’s offensive success.
Before the half, Sylvester was averaging eight yards per carry.
Sylvester managed to run his way through the Hampton defense and into the end zone for a 38-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
“Downfield blocks were the key although blocking in general is essential,” Sylvester said. “When all 11 players mesh we do great things offensively.”
With HU down 28-10, they only had their pass game to rely on since their run was non-existent.
The Rattler’s defense held the Pirates to less than 10 total rushing yards before the final quarter of play.
“The key defensively was keeping pressure on the quarterback,” Taylor said. “The best defensive coverage was the pass rush.”
With a comfortable lead, the Rattler coaching staff decided to continue executing the same game plan.
Pulley’s main go to guys through the air, were Kevin Elliot and Isaac West. With the fourth quarter approaching, Pulley connected with West on a 49-yard pass for another touchdown.
After the touchdown, the score was brought to (35-10). HU put together a drive that resulted in late addition to their already losing score. A fourth quarter Rattler field goal and touchdown overshadowed the final score from the Pirates offense.