Odds favor Rattlers not Spartans

Don’t count FAMU out just yet.

Just when the Rattler’s ship looked like it might be sinking, the team got back to its winning ways last Saturday with a win over arch-nemesis North Carolina A&T, to salvage what was otherwise a three-game home stand to forget.

The Rattlers (5-3, 3-2) look to take their newly found momentum into Saturday’s game against Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference opponent Norfolk State. The Spartans (2-4, 0-4) are currently next-to-last in the conference. FAMU head coach Billy Joe said situations like this can usually result in a letdown.

“We’re going to have a very difficult time with them,” Joe said. “Usually when a team comes off a big win like we are, they tend to be flat the following game. We can’t allow that to happen to us.”

The Rattlers played one of their most complete games of the season last week against an Aggie team they had not beaten since 1998.

FAMU ran the ball very effectively, “better than we normally do,” according to Joe.

Quarterback Casey Printers, who started in only his second game since his ankle injury the third week of the season, also had a good game. He threw for 245 yards and two touchdowns.

“We spread the ball out a lot better last week,” receiver Charlie Allen said. “And because we ran the ball well, that set up the pass. We just had a really good game plan.”

FAMU’s defense played with an emotion and intensity that hasn’t been present all season. The run defense, which is where the Rattlers usually struggle, only gave up 102 yards. The defense turned in a respectable performance, despite having to defend a short field on several drives throughout the game.

The Rattlers have dominated Norfolk State since the Spartans joined the MEAC in 1997. FAMU has taken all five meetings between the schools, winning by an average score of 54-14. The current version of the Spartans is lacking productivity in several places. The offense is sputtering, only scoring 18 points per game, while the defense is allowing 30.

“They may give up a lot of points, but their defense is still very active,” offensive lineman Fletcher Williams said. “I think they returned all of their starters on the defensive line, so it will be tough for us.”

Nineteen of the Spartans’ 22 starters are either juniors or seniors. Quarterback Willie Mitchell, who was third on the team’s preseason depth chart, has emerged as Norfolk State’s starter, after putting in a good performance in a losing effort to Hampton.

The Spartans also have a pair of talented running backs, featuring senior William Smith, who leads the team in rushing yards per game (73.6) and touchdowns (six). He is backed up by freshman Terrell Johnson, who averages 5.5 yards per carry. The defense is led by senior defensive end Jamal Naji, who is third on the team in tackles (33), and leads the team in sacks (four) and tackles for loss (11).

Although the chances are slim, the Rattlers still have a shot at winning a third straight MEAC title, with a lot of help from other teams. However, if FAMU can win the rest of its games, it will finish the season 9-3 and be in good position for an at-large playoff spot.