The Florida A&M (FAMU) Rattlers wrapped up their last football game of the season against the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats in the annual Florida Blue Florida Classic on Nov.18, losing the game 24-29. This gut-wrenching loss was a trend for the Rattlers this year in what can only be described as the season of heartbreak.
The season started well, as the Rattlers won two of their first four games, making them 2-2 headed into their tough matchup against N.C. Central at home.
FAMU lost that home game 21-14, as Central drove in the winning score with only two minutes left in the game. The Rattlers were unable to answer with a score of their own, and watched the seconds tick down, victory out of reach.
That game began a terrible trend for the Rattlers that would continue for the rest of the year.
All six of the Rattlers’ games following that loss were decided by two scores or less, four of those games being decided by only one score. The team’s matchup against Norfolk State was another heartbreaker.
FAMU lost 35-28 and quarterback Ryan Stanley told the Tallahassee Democrat after that game that turnovers were the issue. “When you give up turnovers that the defense can score on, that's not winning football at all,” he said.
Turnovers were also an issue in the following game against North Carolina A&T; the team lost 31-20 due to two interceptions thrown by Stanley.
In their game against Hampton on Oct. 2, the Rattlers had the lead with a little more than seven minutes left in the game, only to have the defense allow Hampton to score two minutes later, ending the game 31-27.
Experiencing numerous close games with disappointing endings is frustrating not only to the fans, but to the players as well.
“It’s very frustrating to be so close and not be able to secure the win,” FAMU defensive back Orlando McKinley said. “Coach Wood has emphasized ‘finish’ since he got here in 2015, and we have yet to do that.”
Even when it seemed like the Rattlers were gaining some traction after winning a close game at Morgan State 34-31, the Rattlers would go right back to square one with a 37-26 loss to Howard.
“It’s always frustrating to lose at anything you’re doing that’s competitive,” FAMU wide receiver Chaviss Murphey said. “Being so close and not winning is (even more) frustrating. To have come out victorious in these games, we just needed to come together as a team and finish. We win as a team, we lose as a team; one man or one play doesn’t determine a 60-minute football game.”
If the Rattlers were able to win all their close games this season, they would have finished 7-4 overall, which would create a tie for the second best record in the MEAC.
If the Rattlers can figure out how to close out games, they could be a dangerous opponent in 2018.
“I feel as if we have all the pieces to be a championship team,” McKinley said. “Ninety percent of the team is coming back. That’s the great part about our situation, and we plan on having a winning season at the end of the 2018 campaign.”
McKinley could be correct, as the Rattlers will have their top running back, receiver, and quarterback return for 2018, along with the majority of the defense that was able to force 13 turnovers this season.
“The most positive thing this team has taken away from this season is through adversity we know to keep fighting,” Murphy said. “No matter what happens, (we need to) play hard, not point fingers, and remain a team.”
If Murphy’s words are true, the Rattlers have a bright future ahead of them.