When the Florida A&M Rattlers took the field against the Savannah State Tigers Saturday, several players were looking to avenge two-straight losses in which their performance was sub-par. The winless Tigers suffered a blowout loss to a relentless Rattler rushing attack led by senior running back Philip Sylvester, sophomore quarterback Martin Ukpai and sophomore wide receiver T.J. Lawrence.
During the first half, it seemed that elements were working against the Rattlers when a Lawrence punt return for a touchdown was called back due to an inadvertent whistle. The Tigers took advantage of the Rattlers’ bad luck and kicked it again, with nothing coming of the return.
Then Sylvester was denied what would have been his second rushing touchdown of the game when a holding penalty was called. Sylvester scored earlier on a 69-yard scamper to the end zone that put the Rattlers on top 7-0. Head coach Joe Taylor said he was proud of the way his players responded to those early miscues.
“I’m just proud of these guys because they just have a lot of resiliency,” Taylor said. “Those kinds of things can really serve to be setbacks, but that’s character moving forward. We have a theme on the sideline, ‘play the next play’ and that kept us going.”
The Rattlers’ running game exploded in the second half thanks to a reverse to Lawrence that the former Florida Gator took 58 yards for a touchdown. Coach Taylor said after the game that he was trying to prevent a momentum shift in the Tigers’ favor, while giving the players something fun to run.
“I thought we were pressing. I said we just need to do something to just kind of loosen everyone up,” Taylor said. “So I just told them we’d just come out with a reverse, and it worked to perfection.”
Rattlers’ rushers posted 327 yards on the reeling Tiger defense, a season-high. Sylvester finished the day with 153 total yards on 18 carries and two touchdowns. Lawrence and Ukpai were the next top contributors with 63 yards on the ground apiece. Rattler rushers scored four total touchdowns in the contest.
“I was real eager to get back out there. Falling short in two games, games that we could’ve won; it was more me trying to get out there and get this thing rolling again,” Ukpai said. “It was real exciting. That was a good team we just played. Obviously the record didn’t show it, but they came out with good energy.”
“It feels good to get back out there,” Sylvester added. “This week we came into the game saying we were going to focus on the run. The first three plays were running plays. The line did a good job of creating creases for me, Lavante (Page) and (Eddie) Rocker. We just took advantage of that and scored touchdowns.”
Florida A&M will take the show on the road next week to Norfolk, Va., when they take on Norfolk State. The Trojans are 1-3 in the MEAC after a disappointing loss to rival Hampton on the road.