On Sunday, the Florida A&M University Rattlers took on the Jackson State Tigers at Hard Rock Stadium for the 36th annual Orange Blossom Classic.
After a 43-year absence, the two teams returned to South Florida for a highly anticipated matchup that featured new talent on both sides as well as the appearance of second-year head coach Deion Sanders and his son, freshman quarterback Shadeur Sanders.
“It is the epic return, all things we know to be in our culture start with our football season,” said FAMU Athletic Director Kortne Gosha. “I personally think the SWAC champion is in the building tonight.”
Miami native and Rattler fan Chad Johnson also joined in on the fun at the Hard Rock sporting orange and green, backing Florida A&M and HBCUs entirely as he has done consistently for most of his life.
“This is one of the few times I have been able to see the Rattlers in God knows how long. I have not missed a classic since 1984,” said Johnson. “What is happening for HBCUs is phenomenal. It doesn’t matter where you go to school, it matters what you do between the lines.”
After a combined 800 days, Jackson State and FAMU faithful graced the Hard Rock Stadium for what was expected to be a high scoring explosive game filled with excitement. Instead, there were a total of 21 penalties, five turnovers and a total of 13 points in the 7-6 defeat of the Rattlers.
Many people had their speculation about who the starting quarterback would be. Head coach Willie Simmons waited until that Saturday to put redshirt junior Rashawn McCay in the starting spot.
McCay would throw 18/29 for a total of 78 yards through three quarters after being replaced by true freshman Junior Muratovic.
Muratovic would provide a well-needed spark for the offense, but it proved to be a day late and a dollar short when the Rattlers turned the ball over after failing to convert on fourth down with seconds remaining in the game.
“He missed some throws he usually makes and that is something we have talked about, just do the things we have done everyday in practice,” said head coach Wille Simmons. “We weren’t as sharp as we needed to be going into the fourth quarter and I feel like Junior played well. Ultimately we need to get back to the drawing board and it may be one guy or it may be by committee.”
Both the Tigers and Rattlers got off to a very slow start that was followed by an early turnover by the Rattlers. Although the forced fumble and touchdown was overturned, it set the precedent for the type of game fans were in tune for.
The Rattlers forced the Tigers to punt early and often resulting in Jackson State converting only twice on third down.
What shaped the game in most part was discipline. The many turnovers and penalties is what resulted in the Rattlers subsequent defeat.
“It is not on the kids, it is on us as coaches,” said Simmons. “We simply cannot make those mistakes. Everything we did wrong to beat ourselves is all on me. We will get that corrected and hopefully we will not see those mishaps again.”
The Rattlers will head back to Bragg Stadium next week to take on Fort Valley State University in the home opener of the 2021 season.