Defense steps up, punches ticket for championship game

Florida A&M’s defense made plays when it mattered and took advantage of Hampton’s eighth-ranked scoring offense en route to a 17-12 victory at Bragg Memorial Stadium on Saturday.

The Hampton University Pirates (5-5, 4-3 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference) turned up the defense pressure in the second half but could not overcome the pressure from the Rattlers’ defense.  The Pirates only managed six points in the second half, and couldn’t erase an 11-point halftime deficit.

“We knew they blitzed probably 70-80 percent of the time,” said Hampton head coach Donovan Rose. “We just didn’t capitalize on plays we should have made.  Again, we knew they were going to blitz, but we just can’t sit back there and let our quarterback run for his life.”  

Senior defensive back Curtis Holcomb recorded two picks, both of which stalled critical drives for the Pirates.  The first one came in the end zone, stopping the Pirates’ only trip to the red zone. The second one came on a Hail Mary pass to end the game.

The defense made plays but it wasn’t flawless.  Florida A&M’s defense, ranked second in the MEAC coming in to the game, was picked apart by redshirt-junior quarterback David Legree.  He found receiver Javaris Brown eight times for 141 yards and a touchdown.

“I thought (Legree) was hurt,” said head coach Joe Taylor. “He didn’t look like it today. He ran around, made some plays.  We made enough plays, certainly, and it was a big win for us. I’m just so proud of the fact that we’re here with one game to go for the championship.”

Redshirt-junior safety John Ojo said the defense wasn’t expecting the pass.

“They had some success with the passing game,” he said. “Whenever it mattered most we stepped it up and shut it down.”

Taylor said the goal was to make Hampton one-dimensional by stopping the run and force Hampton’s sixth-ranked passing defense to win through the air.  Taylor kept the heat on throughout the game and Legree spent most of the second half on his back.  He was sacked six times.

Hampton head coach Donovan Rose said he was pleased with Legree’s performance despite the loss.

Redshirt-freshman quarterback Austin Trainor recorded his second career start against the Pirates second-ranked defense. It wasn’t pretty, but Trainor kept Hampton’s defense from controlling the game. 

Early on, Trainor’s worst enemies were his own receivers.  The first two plays of the game were drops by senior tight end Max Purcell and senior wide receiver Isaac West.  Trainor still completed 14 passes for 156 yards. 

“I feel like we have the best receivers in the MEAC by far,” Trainor said. “Everybody drops the ball every now and then but that doesn’t mean I’m not coming right back to them. When it comes down to it I know they’re going to get the ball for me, I just have to get the ball in the vicinity.”

Trainor also ran five yards for his first career rushing touchdown in the second quarter.

Taylor said he was impressed with Trainor’s confidence and poise, and that Trainor gives the team the best opportunity to be competitive.

Senior running back Philip Sylvester continued his dominance on the ground as well.  He broke a 79-yard run for a touchdown on the first play of Florida A&M’s second drive in the first quarter.

The Rattlers (7-3, 6-1 in the MEAC) will take on the Bethune-Cookman University Wildcats (10-0, 7-0 in the MEAC) in the Florida Classic in Orlando. This year’s classic will decide the MEAC champion.  Taylor said he is happy the week of the game is here and his team can finally focus on the championship.

“I’m glad it’s here,” he said. “Now we can concentrate on Bethune-Cookman. That’s the only game everybody’s been talking about. Now it’s here; now we can put all our attention on it.”

GAME NOTES: The band was fined $1,000 for its refusal to leave the field during the homecoming game. It got off the field with four minutes to spare Saturday, and was only warned once for excessive noise.  Receiver T.J. Lawrence went down in the third quarter with an ankle injury and did not return to the game.  He had two receptions for 25 yards.  In the fourth quarter, Taylor went for it on fourth and two on Hampton’s 27-yard line.  Sylvester did not get the yardage, but before the call, FAMU had the highest percent of fourth down conversions in the MEAC at 58.2 percent.