Rattlers give Tigers classic performance

FAMU’s defense comes up big in the clutch as the Rattlers held the Tigers of Tennessee State University to seven points on the way to a 12-7 victory in Saturday’s 17th annual Atlanta Football Classic. In a defensive battle, the Rattlers’ late fourth quarter goal-line stand sealed the win and had the 56,297 fans in attendance on their feet, yes there were fans on their feet after halftime.

“No matter what their record or ours, [TSU] manages to give us a tough game every time we play,” said FAMU junior receiver Aubrey Parrish.

The game began with a TSU opening drive reminiscent of the last Classic the Rattlers participated in (a 37-3 ambush by the USF Bulls). On the third play of the game Tigers’ junior quarterback Richard Hartman launched a 62-yard touchdown pass to junior receiver Richard Gale. However, this was not a sign of things to come as the Tigers failed to reach the end zone or even the field goal posts again for the remainder of the contest.

“We played real hard, never lost our composure and communicated well. When we play like this, we don’t believe anyone can beat us,” said FAMU senior cornerback Keith Williams of the Rattlers’ performance.

As the game progressed, slowly, both sides were able to streak together a crowd-pleasing series here and there, but neither the Rattles nor the Tigers could lead a drive all the way to the end zone. With neither team able to establish a solid rushing game, the Rattlers and Tigers rushing for 26 and 35 total yards respectively, the half concluded with a 23-yard field goal by FAMU sophomore kicker Wesley Taylor to narrow the gap to 7-3 in the favor of Tennessee State.

The second half of play saw the Rattlers beginning to show signs of fight. The offense, on the heels of sophomore quarterback Chris Owens, getting the start after last week’s starter Josh Driscoll suffered a hip injury against Howard, saw 19 completions on 30 attempts and 226 passing yards.

Of the 226 passing yards, 76 belong to Rattlers’ receiver Roosevelt Kiser on seven receptions. One of which was a 23-yard touchdown in the third quarter to give the Rattlers their first lead of the night at 9-7, after a botched extra point attempt.

The third quarter of play concluded with a 42-yard field goal from Taylor to build the Rattlers’ lead to 12-7.

After some tight defense and big stops by both teams, the outcome of this year’s Classic came down to one last trip to the red zone for the Tigers and one more minute of play.

In the most eventful series of events on the evening, Rattlers’ senior cornerback LaJuan Walker came up with an interception on the Rattlers’ one-yard line, which was immediately stripped and recovered by Tennessee State receiver Gerald Marrow to regain possession on the two-yard line for the Tigers.

Thirty-four seconds remain on the clock, first-and-goal for the Tigers and two yards of turf to decide the champion.

First down, the Tigers attempt a running play to sophomore running back Denard Cox that resulted in the Rattlers stopping the play in the backfield, setting up second-and-goal from the four-yard line.

Second down, an overthrown pass means the loss of another down, timeout FAMU. When play resumed, the Rattlers received a scare on a near complete pass in the end zone that was broken up by sophomore defensive back Ernest Williams. An incomplete pass on fourth down meant the game and a hard earned victory for the Rattlers, improving their season record to 2-2.

“Big time players make big time plays in big games,” remarked FAMU senior strong safety Brandon Finnie of the defensive stand.

With a gutsy performance from the defense, the Rattlers came out on top, and with the difference-making points the game’s Most Valuable Player award went to kicker Wesley Taylor.

The Rattlers will take on the Golden Panthers of Florida International University next Saturday, October 1, at 3 p.m. in Miami.

Contact Reginald Snowden at thefamuansports@hotmail.com