The Florida A&M University Rattlers defeated the North Carolina A&T Aggies in their regular season home finale at Bragg Stadium 31-27 in front of 8,034 fans. The game, which was the last home game for 28 Rattler seniors, was one of ups and downs.
Senior LeRoy Vann returned a punt 51 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter to help seal the game for Rattlers, who improved to 7-2 overall, 5-1 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
Vann has now returned five punts for a touchdown this season tying an NCAA FCS single-season record set ironically by North Carolina A&T’s Curtis Deloach in 2001.
Vann also broke single-season school records for punts returned for a touchdown (five) and for punt return yards (540), both previously set by Howard Huckaby in 1988.
“It feels good, but my hat goes off to my supporting cast,” Vann said in the post game press conference. “Without them, going out there and giving all they got each and every game blocking for me, I wouldn’t be able to go out there and score any touchdowns this season, or any other season I played in.”
Vann’s record-breaking afternoon was tempered, however, by his two fumbles, one on offense and one special teams, that resulted in 13 points for the Aggies, who fell to 5-5, 3-4 in the MEAC.
“Scoring a touchdown doesn’t take away the fumble, but it makes me feel better that I helped the team another way,” Vann said.
Vann’s fumbles were two of six turnovers the Rattlers committed Saturday much to the displeasure of head coach Joe Taylor.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen us this quite out of focus,” Taylor said. “But for the second week in a row, our defense came up big and it takes all three phases (offense, defense and special teams). We didn’t get a lot of things done but it’s good to see Vann come up and contribute a touchdown. But the thing that was disappointing was the turnovers.”
Taylor also wasn’t pleased to see his starting quarterback leave the game with a pulled groin in the third quarter after trying to recover a fumble.
Before leaving the game, Pulley completed nine passes on 17 attempts for 145 yards, one touchdown, and no interceptions. He also rushed for a 22-yard touchdown in the second quarter and ran for a total of 79 yards before he went down.
Pulley said he expected to be able to play in the Rattlers’ next game against Hampton University Saturday.
Pulley left the game with the Rattlers trailing 17-21. Junior quarterback Eddie Battle was called in to help lead the Rattlers’ comeback and keep their playoff aspirations alive.
Battle completed just three of 12 passes for 31 yards and missed two wide open receivers in the endzone for a potential touchdown play. Battle also threw an interception in the endzone.
Battle did lead the Rattlers on one touchdown drive in third quarter and he did it in only one play by handing off to junior Philip Sylvester who ran 40 yards for the score.
Although he didn’t want to see his teammate go down, Battle said he felt ready to step in whenever the team needed him.
“He’s a tough guy,” Battle said of Pulley. “So honestly, I didn’t see myself playing much at all. I did my best to keep us in there and we’re praying for him and hoping he gets back.”
While Battle had to play the fill-in role for the Rattlers, North Carolina A&T freshman quarterback Lewis Kindle had the daunting task of making his first collegiate start against the Rattlers on the road.
Lewis more than held his own Saturday. Lewis led the Aggies on three scoring drives in the first half, giving his team a 17-14 halftime lead.
Lewis outdueled Pulley in the first half connecting on his first two career touchdown passes in the second quarter. Lewis finished the game with a game-high 206 yards passing and two touchdowns on 16 of 30 passing.
Lewis also ran for a touchdown in the first quarter. The one blemish that stood out for Lewis was an interception thrown to Qier Hall in the third quarter.
“You never want to turn the football over, that’s always a tough situation,” Lee said. “But I think we did some great things offensively, we had a true freshman quarterback and I thought he played outstanding. The sky is the limit for North Carolina A&T.”