Rattlers romp at Orange Blossom Classic

FAMU coach Willie Simmons leads the charge during the Orange Blossom Classic. Photo courtesy: Ashley Bigbee

MIAMI GARDENS – The Florida A&M football team opened its season Sunday with a 28-10 win over the Jackson State Tigers in the Denny’s Orange Blossom Classic. 

The winner of the past two games has gone on to win the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) East Division and this year’s game seemed to boast the same implications, as both teams were ranked to finish first and second in the SWAC East conference’s preseason polls.

After last year’s disappointing outcome, the Rattlers knew they would have to come out of the gate with energy and they did just that when All-SWAC Second Team Receiver Marcus Riley returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown. 

After the first touchdown, the energy continued to circulate around the team as the defense came out strong, forcing a turnover on downs and a fumble on the Tiger’s first two possessions. 

After the fumble, Jah’Marae Sheread caught a 5-yard pass from quarterback Jeremy Mousa to put the Rattlers up 21-0 over the Tigers in the first quarter. 

The offense started to cool down, only scoring one touchdown in the second quarter, which led the team into halftime with an advantage of 28-0 over the Tigers.

The Rattlers came out of halftime flat, leading to a shutout half for the offense and the defense giving up 10 points to the Tigers. 

Head coach Willie Simmons talked about the difference in mentality for the team and what changed as the game unfolded. 

“We didn’t have that same vigor and excitement about playing in the second half, like we did the first,” Simmons said in the post-game conference. “That’s the challenge… It’s a jedi mind-trick trying to get these guys to really understand finishing.”

The Rattler defense came to play, posting 4 sacks for 20 yards and recovering 2 fumbles, while only allowing 72 rushing yards on the day. 

Star linebacker Isaiah Major led the defense in tackles with six, while six other defensive players followed with four. 

The return team for the Rattlers was stellar, combining for 225 yards from both the kickoffs and punts.

Mousa played up to the level of SWAC Offensive Preseason Player of the Year award winner, ending the 12-22 with 150 yards, 2 touchdowns and no interceptions, including a long pass of 68 yards to Sheread. 

Other than Mousa having eight receivers with a reception, one of the most impressive aspects for the Rattlers was the successful run game.

The team totaled over 220 yards rushing on the day, with both Terrel Jennings and Jaquez Yant rushing for over 70 yards individually. 

Coach Simmons spoke about the team’s success running the ball during the game and his goals and expectations for the remainder of the season. 

“That [rushing] was our Achilles heel last year. We really made a commitment to be able to run the football this year,” Simmons said in the post-game conference. “We will be able to throw the football pretty much against anyone, but if we can show that we can run the ball consistently then we have a chance to be a very prolific offense. 

The Rattlers have a short week but look to continue their winning play in their next game, as they travel to Tampa to take on the University of South Florida.