Rattlers keep rolling through MEAC with unbeaten record
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer
Coaching the FAMU football team just got harder for Willie Simmons and his staff of assistants, following a decisive 38-3 victory over Morgan State.
With three games left to compete for a shot at either the NCAA playoff or the Celebration Bowl, coaching the team has become a little bit more than the X’s and O’s.
Simmons said as much, calling the challenge ahead adversity. Overcoming will depend on how well the Rattlers handle the kinds of distraction that comes with winning after they improved their record to 6-2 overall and remained unbeaten (5-0) in MEAC play for first place in the league standings.
“We are looking at it as (adversity) because the spirit of complacency wants to creep in and take over,” Simmons said, following the win last Saturday night. “Even though it’s a place many people would love to be in we are looking at it as adversity.
“For us it’s keeping our heads down and understanding we will get what we deserve.”
They did against the Bears. Right from the beginning, the Rattlers showed that having a bye week didn’t bring on any sluggishness. Less than five minutes had expired in the first quarter when the Rattlers Demonte Moore recovered a Morgan State fumble at the lip of the end zone for a touchdown.
That set the tone for the night in front of 14,047 at Bragg Stadium. They struck again when Bishop Bonnet made his longest run of the night for 36 yards late in the first quarter.
On the ensuing play, quarterback Ryan Stanley found Char Hunter for a 22-yard touchdown catch.
Special teams got into the scoring spurt to start the second quarter with a 47-yard field goal from Yahia Aly. Touchdown catches of 15 and 21 yards by Marcus Williams and Xavier Smith, respectively, shut the door on Morgan State, 31-0.
The Bears couldn’t catch a break from the defense until they managed a 29-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter with 13:06 left to play.
FAMU is now one win away from clinching at least a share of the MEAC title for the first time since 2011. It could come when the Rattlers travel to Washington, D.C., to face Howard University on Saturday.
The victory intensified the conversation about where the Rattlers will finish. The preference is the Celebration Bowl because it comes with a $600,000 payday, Simmons said.
Add to that the possibility of meeting longtime rival Southern University in the bowl game that matches the MEAC champion against the SWAC champ and the chatter gets louder.
So loud that the players are trying their best not to let it become a distraction.
“We play as if we are losing. That’s how we keep winning,” said receiver Azende Rey. “It’s like a chip on our shoulders.”
Although it has been three months since the Rattlers were predicted to finish fifth in the league, they are still using it as motivation, said Rey.
“It feels good,” added defensive end Antonio Miller. “The change in the atmosphere is great but we are not satisfied by that, though. We haven’t won anything yet.
“We just keep trying to get better day by day. I don’t think anybody is satisfied being the No. 1 team in the MEAC eight games in.”
The Rattlers have gotten here by winning on the road. Their first loss was at home against Jackson State and Troy University, a BCS program, handed them their lone road defeat.
That gives them a 2-1 road record with the two wins coming over MEAC opponents. They have the Howard game and the annual Florida Classic against Bethune-Cookman in Orlando to finish the regular season that potentially could come down to beating the Wildcats.
“We knew before when we looked at the schedule that our toughest opponents are all on the road (A&T, Central, Howard and B-CU),” Simmons said. “We took the mindset that we have to know how to win on the road.”