After a stunning first season in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, Florida A&M University football continues to make noise by becoming the first team in the conference to be selected for the NCAA’s Division I Football Championship Subdivision playoffs since 1997.
The Rattlers will face off at 7 p.m. EST Saturday against Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, La.
“This is the year of the Rattler,” said coach Willie Simmons at a watch party, awaiting the news Sunday.
FAMU ended the regular season with a 9-2 record, losing only one conference game, 7-6, to Jackson State University in the season-opening Orange Blossom Classic and an out-of-conference game against the University of South Florida.
The celebratory news came only a day after the Rattlers ended an upsetting nine-year losing streak to the Bethune-Cookman University Wildcats.
Regardless of the triumphant ending of the regular season, Simmons says the team observed the 24-hour rule and got right back to work, practicing and feasting together over the Thanksgiving holiday to prepare for the task at hand.
“The goal wasn’t just to get into the FCS playoffs, but the goal is to try and make a run at a national championship,” Simmons said.
SELU’s team will be a formidable opponent, with a record of 8-3, losing all three games in close calls.
The first-round game will pit FAMU’s stellar “dark clouds defense” against SELU’s sound offense. In this type of matchup, fans are interested to see which side will win out.
Simmons says FAMU will have to set up the defense to keep SELU’s prolific quarterback off the field and arrange the Rattler offense in a way to match SELU’s, should they “get active.” A priority for FAMU will have to be running the ball and converting third downs.
Even still, Simmons believes that special teams could make a difference in the game’s outcome.
The top players to watch this game will be FAMU’s defensive back Markquese Bell and SELU’s powerhouse quarterback Cole Kelley — both top prospects in the FCS playoffs.
Kelley is the No. 1 player in the FCS in several categories, including passing yards, passing efficiency, and completion rates with a 74 percent completion rate. Bell is known as the “best safety in the country” and has recently accepted an invitation to the National Football League’s Shrine Bowl.
Other FAMU players also lead the FCS charts. Linebacker Isaiah Land is the No. 1 player for sacks and Jah’Marae Sheread is No. 1 in punt returns.
The news of the Rattlers playing in the FCS playoffs amassed huge support from Rattler fans, with reports of buses to take fans to the game from Atlanta, Jacksonville, Orlando and Tallahassee.
FAMU will also be the first HBCU team to play in an FCS playoff game since 2016, garnering support from other HBCU students and alumni across the nation.
Fellow SWAC opponent Jackson State University also made a statement via Twitter sending congratulations and support to FAMU football, saying, “… You better believe that [JSU] is behind you. We ALL need to root for the Rattlers because this is bigger than us.”
The last time FAMU played in an FCS playoff game was in 2001, and the team is looking to add a second FCS championship title since their last win back in 1978.
The team has already proved in its annual quarrel versus B-CU that past years have no effect on a strong team seeking a winning streak and when it comes to Rattler football.
To purchase tickets to the FCS playoff game, visit www.ticketreturn.com.