Florida A&M (FAMU) Rattlers blocked a 52-yard field goal attempt and returned it for a touchdown in the final seconds to halt a comeback by the Alabama State Hornets.
The high-octane FAMU offense jumped out to a 7-0 lead on the Rattlers’ first drive of the game. Quarterback Jeremy Moussa completed 4 of 8 passes for 67 yards including an 8-yard touchdown pass to Xavier Smith.
Defense controlled most of the next 11 minutes of the game. Gentle Hunt ripped the ball from the arms of Hornets quarterback Dematrius Davis. The fumble resulted in a 46-yard field goal attempt by Jose Romo-Martinez.
Weather is always a factor in the kicking game. Arctic winds not only cooled off the southern region, it brought stiff winds with it. Saturday’s winds blew across the field from the home stands to the visitors’ side (left-right). The winds carried Romo-Martinez’s kick wide right of the goalposts.
Alabama State (ASU) mounted its longest drive of the first half midway through the second quarter. The Hornets rushed five times and passed another five times to cover the 76 yards needed to even the score. Quarterback Dematrius Davis’ lateral to Isaiah Scott turned into a 37-yard touchdown strike to Kisean Johnson.
Bama State’s drive ate up nearly five of the seven remaining minutes of the first half. It was plenty of time for Moussa. A couple of penalties against the Hornets’ defense and a 17-yard pass to Smith on 2nd and 15 moved the ball into Bama State territory with less than 30 seconds to play. The Rattlers’ drive stalled at the Hornets’ 31.
Head coach Willie Simmons sent Romo-Martinez out for another bite at the apple from 2 yards farther out. Same wind, same result, leaving the score knotted at 7-7.
FAMUs front seven wreaked havoc in the third holding the Hornets -23 yards of offense. While the offense struggled, Bama State’s defense slammed the door on the Rattlers.
Moussa entered the game with seven interceptions over his first nine games. He left with three more than he came with. Chauncey Moore and Cail Jackson combined to pick off Moussa three times in the red zone.
With their back against the goal line, Dematrius Davis made an ill-advised throw out of the end zone that was ruled intentional grounding. The penalty resulted in a safety and a two-point lead for the Rattlers.
The first 8 minutes of the final quarter produced a grand total of 20 yards from both offenses. You read that right 20 yards. Both defenses limited the opposition to one first down.
An 18-yard punt by Aubrey Grace gave the Rattlers excellent field position at the Hornets’ yard line. Despite the short field, the Rattlers could not move the ball against the Hornets’ defense.
Chris Faddoul was called on to punt with the possibility of pinning the Hornets inside the ten where the Rattlers’ defense could take advantage of the Hornets’ inefficiency. Faddoul’s punt was blocked by Tyree Saunders. Cail Jackson scooped up the rock and raced down the Hornets’ sideline for a touchdown.
The score gave Bama State its first lead of the game 14-9.
A short kick-off from Nathaniel Eichner and a 17-yard return by BJ Bohler gave the Rattlers another short field to work with. On second and 10 from the 23, Moussa dropped a beautiful ball over the shoulder of Jah-Marae Sheread in the end zone. The pass dropped through the arms of the conference’s third leading receiver like a free throw from Steph Curry passes through the nets.
Sheread redeemed himself two plays later. The generously listed 5’7, 170-pound receiver caught the third-down pass from Moussa inside the five where he was immediately wrapped up by 6’3, 200-pound DB Mikey Victor. Wrapped up but not down, the smaller ball carrier used his leg strength to drive into the end zone for the go-ahead score.
FAMU execution of the two-point conversion ended a half-yard shy of the end goal line setting up a finish for the history books.
The Hornets held the ball for three and a half minutes of the 4 remaining minutes for a net gain of 0 yards. During the possession, Myles Crawley was sacked twice and fumbled twice. Offensive linemen Robert Alston and Travon Taylor recovered the fumbles for the Hornets.
Game over right? Wrong.
FAMUs next four downs traveled backwards18 yards, -15 due to a penalty. Fortunately for the Hornets, the drive used only 13 of the 37 seconds that remained in the game.
Crawley reentered the game to try and move the offense or get a quick score.
ASU Head Coach Eddie Robinson recognized the challenge his team was confronted with. “We had that one time out so we wanted to save that and try and get in field goal range,” said Robinson. “Try to get down to the 20 or a little bit further because the wind was blowing into the kicker’s face.”
Crawley shook off the miscues of the previous drive firing strikes to Isaiah Scott on the sideline and Jeremiah Hixon in the middle of the field to set up Aubrey Grace for a 52-yard game-winning field goal attempt.
Grace would have to put all of his 167 pounds into the kick to travel four yards farther than FAMUs Romo-Martinez against the same wind.
FAMUs struggles gave Head Coach Willie Simmons perspective on what the Hornets were facing. “I went to Donald Hall, big number 93,” said Simmons. “Donald’s listed at 315 (pounds) but we’re being very generous with that. We need to get some push. We knew it would have to be a lower-line drive field goal because the kicker was a little out of his range. Fifty-two is long for a collegiate kicker. He would have to put everything he had into it to make it. So we knew it was going to be kind of a low, line-drive kick. I told them when we went out, we need an inside push.”
Hall responded with a massive push. Simmons’ instructions worked as planned. The low trajectory of the kick from Grace hit the 6’3 Hall under the arm (see photo at the top).
FAMU travels to Orlando next Saturday to face arch-rival Bethune Cookman University in the Florida Classic. The Wildcats are having a dismal season according to the standings. A win against the Rattlers would make the off-season a little less bitter. Despite the obvious difference in the respective records, both teams have taken wins in years where they were the underdogs.
Alabama State enters its bye-week before hosting Arkansas Pine-Bluff in the age-old Turkey Day Classic on Thanksgiving Day. The Golden Lions are bringing up the rear in the conference at 0-7, 2-8. They won’t be overlooked by the Hornets. Pine-Bluff held FAMU to 27 points and lost by a touchdown or less to Texas Southern and Alabama A&M.
- Xavier Smith 13 rec. 145 yds, TD
- Jah-Marae Sheread 6 rec. 63 yds, TD
- Isaiah Major 8 tackles
- Johnny Chaney 8 tackles
- Isaiah Land 5 tackles, 1.5 sacks, safety
- Gentle Hunt 5 tackles, 1.5 sacks, fumble recovery
- Dre Jones 4 tackles, 3.5 sacks, forced fumble
- Colton Adams 15 tackles, 2 QB
- Cail Jackson 4 tackles, 2 interceptions, TD (fumble recovery)
- Andrew Ogletree 5 tackles, 1.5 sacks
- Keenan Isaac 5 tackles , 0.5 sacks
- Kisean Johnson 5 rec. 69 yards, TD
All photos credit Jason McDonald, JM Photography for CORE360 Sports