The Rattlers' first offensive play was a microcosm of the game.
A failed flea flicker attempt that saw a touchdown pass sail through the grasp of a receiver is how Florida A&M's homecoming game went: The Rattlers (2-5, 1-2 MEAC) let the game slip through their hands early in a contest that featured no second-half scoring.
Howard rushed for 254 yards en route to its third consecutive win against FAMU and its first Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference win of the season.
The Bison (2-5, 1-3 MEAC) opened the game with a five-play, 77-yard touchdown drive highlighted by a 62-yard run from Anthony Philyaw. One play later, William Parker would score the touchdown on a one-yard run for the 7-0 lead.
After failing to convert the flea flicker on first down, FAMU would go three and out on its first possession.
Despite missing out on a potential touchdown to tie the game and give the home team momentum, Damien Fleming (13-19 105 yards, 1 INT) said he didn’t feel like the dropped pass had any impact on the offense.
“It was still a ball game until the end,” Fleming said. “That’s just one play during the whole game.”
On their next drive, the Bison would begin from their own 20-yard line. Howard marched into FAMU territory to the 32 before failing to convert a third down. However, a roughing the passer penalty would give the Bison a fresh set of downs, and they would capitalize.
Three plays later, Philyaw scored his first touchdown from 10 yards out. The Bison led 13-0 with 5:53 remaining in the first after the missed extra point.
After the ensuing kickoff sailed out of bounds, the Rattlers began their next possession from their own 35. Casey Glines gave the offense some life with his 10-yard reception, which gave the Rattlers’ their first first down of the day.
Running backs Lemond Buice and James Owens would then provide a spark for the offense as the Rattlers drove into field goal range. Buice rushed for 15 yards on two carries, and Owens caught a pass for a 14-yard gain. Three plays later, Chase Varnadore would connect on a 33-yard field goal with six seconds to go in the first quarter as the Rattlers trailed 13-3.
Howard continued to hurt the FAMU defense, converting two third-and-longs to keep the drive alive. The Bison converted four of their six third down attempts in the first half.
Greg McGhee accounted for a combined 45 yards through the air and on the ground before the running backs concluded the drive with another touchdown.
After Parker (20 rushes, 64 yards, 1 TD) ran for another 10 yards, Philyaw gained 23 more on his next three carries en route to his second touchdown run.
Philyaw (14 rushes, 121 yards, 2 TD) jogged into the end zone on the two-point conversion to give Howard a 21-3 lead four minutes into the second quarter.
But the Rattlers responded. As the running game showed signs of life, Dennis Hall took advantage. Hall played in place of the team’s leading receiver, Lenworth Lennon, who didn’t play for undisclosed reasons.
A 30-yard bomb to Hall on third down would set up FAMU’s only touchdown, a two-yard run from Buice.
“I tried my best to play my part,” said Hall, who led all receivers with six catches for 55 yards. “I wasn’t planning on having a good game, honestly. I just wanted to win. It just so happened that I had a lot of catches today.”
Despite Howard converting a fake punt its next drive as John Fleck ran down the right sideline for 27 yards, FAMU would force a punt and regain possession with about two minutes to go before halftime.
With less than a minute remaining, Fleming threw a jump ball to the 6-foot-6 Glines, who tipped it over a Bison defensive back and held on to it for a 54-yard catch. But after a controversial offensive pass interference call, the catch was nullified.
“Just before halftime, I think, we really lost momentum,” head coach Earl Holmes said. “I thought Casey made a hell of a catch.”
Howard played conservatively in the second half, running the ball 27 times and only throwing four passes as the Bison held the ball for nearly 19 minutes.
Holmes said it was a very ugly game and that he was very disappointed in the season overall.
“We have to find a way to win and to play Rattler football,” he said. “We’re gonna keep working. We’re gonna keep working and we’re gonna keep working until we get what I’m looking for.”
The Rattlers, who haven’t won at home since they defeated North Carolina Central University 22-21 on Nov. 10, will play North Carolina A&T at Bragg Memorial Stadium on Saturday. Kickoff is at 2 p.m.