Rattlers win season opener, remain undefeated vs. MVSU

The last time Florida A&M played Mississippi Valley State University on the gridiron, FAMU head coach Earl Holmes was in high school as the Rattlers came away with a 28-13 victory.

Twenty-three years later, with a crowd of almost 25,000 fans in attendance at the Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium on Sunday in Orlando and a national audience also watching on ESPN, Holmes led the way to a similar 27-10 win to open his first full season as the Rattlers’ coach. The win put FAMU ahead 3-0 in the all-time series.

Four minutes into the game, a mishandled snap by junior MVSU punter Cherchen Galon resulted in a 30-yard loss, giving the Rattlers possession at the Delta Devils’ 12-yard line. Three plays later, junior FAMU quarterback Damien Fleming would run in the game’s first score from six yards out.

On the ensuing possession, junior Patrick Ivy gave the Delta Devils momentum when he took a quarterback draw 64 yards down field before he was tackled six yards shy of the goal line. But a failed fourth-down conversion shifted the momentum back to the Rattlers.

FAMU responded with a 16-play, 96-yard drive that ate up more than eight minutes and included a 35-yard pass from Fleming to a diving Lenworth Lennon, a SportsCenter Top 10 plays nominee. The junior had a game-high four catches for 85 yards.

The Rattlers’ offense would convert two of the defense’s three interceptions into field goals before heading into halftime with a 20-0 lead.

It was not until late in the third quarter that MVSU was able to put points on the board against the FAMU’s defense, which was led by senior linebacker Michael Ducre’s eight tackles and a secondary that combined for three interceptions.

“I felt the defense molded together and played strong,” said senior safety Devan Roberts, who finished with three tackles and 24 kick return yards. “I felt like we played solid and, even though we bent a little once they scored, we didn’t break, and we got things flowing back right.”

Fleming left the game in the third quarter reportedly due to cramps, but he completed 8 of 18 passes for 110 yards and one interception, while also adding another 42 yards on the ground before he was sidelined.

Five players had at least six rushing attempts for the run-heavy Rattlers, who ran the ball 42 times for nearly 200 yards. Senior Al-Terek McBurse, who averaged more than nine yards a carry and added a touchdown en route to a 55-yard rushing performance, was Rattlers’ leading rusher. Omari Albert (11 rush, 47 yards, 1 TD), Lemond Buice (10 rush, 34 yards) and James Owens (7 rush, 24 yards) also contributed to the rushing attack. 

FAMU sits atop the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference with Bethune-Cookman University after seven MEAC teams lost their season openers and the remaining two have yet to play. The Rattlers will play their home opener during Hall of Fame Weekend on Saturday against Tennessee State University at 2 p.m.

Holmes was unavailable for comment.