Beating Rams was a pivotal turnaround for Rattlers

Saturday’s win over Albany State was reason for the Rattlers to celebrate.
Photo by Kyrease Desseau
St. Clair Murraine

 For almost a year Coach Willie Simmons and his FAMU football team knew the schedule of games for the year. 

Scouting on each opponent is ongoing. The stakes are high if the Rattler are to win the SWAC title, since they dropped the Orange Blossom Classic to Jackson State.

Things took a much better turn last Saturday night when the Rattlers returned to Bragg Stadium, easily extending their home win streak to 11 by beating Albany State 23-13.

They improved their record to 1-2.

It left everyone with a good feeling about the Rattlers, although they want to do a lot more winning.

Just ask receiver Xavier Smith.

“We should never settle,” said Smith, who finished the night with 118 yards. “Although we got a win, we’ve got to want more for the team, not just for ourselves. I feel if we just continue to be hungry and continue to keep grinding, at the end of the season we will get everything we deserve.”

Simmons had a lot to say following the win, but his most profound statement wasn’t about offense, defense or special teams. 

What concerned Simmons the most was the bye week. It’s a time that coaches have expressed concern about winning or losing – just like a game.

Yes, that time of not having an opponent to prepare for could be a huge challenge for any team.

“That’s that opponent of complacency, the opponent of patting ourselves on the back, feeling like we have arrived,” Simmons said. “Obviously we still have a lot of work to do to be the team that we are capable of being and we are going to need every day of work this week.”

No one is doubting that, right?

This is a team that has to find the mojo it rode last season to a nine-game win streak and convinced selectors that it should be in the FCS playoffs. This is a different time, though.

These players have had to overcome the hiccup caused when they found out that more than 20 of them weren’t certified for the opening game at the University of North Carolina. The effort was gallant.

Then, came Jackson State where it seemed the Rattlers were carrying the weight of having a face-to-face with President Larry Robinson, after sending him a letter of protest. They even decided to kneel during playing of the school alma mater song.

That’s plenty for a group of young men to come back from and do so while winning football games. 

But don’t bet against this football team if Saturday’s win was an indication. Never mind that the Golden Rams play at the Division II level.

After all, they struck first on an overcast Saturday evening. Marcuis Fulks’ seven-yard run into the end zone at the end of an 81-yard drive set off a celebration on the Rams’ sideline led by coach Gabe Giardina fist pumping.

None of it felt right. Considerable time had expired in the first quarter and FAMU quarterback Jeremy Moussa wasn’t as steady as he appeared in two previous starts. He was picked off by Tavian Mayo, too.

The ensuing FAMU position marked the start of a turnaround that resulted in a 1 yard for by De’Andre Francis with 7:38 in the second quarter. There was some celebration on the Rattlers’ bench, as it should be since it was their first touchdown since the third quarter against UNC.

And, the first collegiate touchdown for the running back from Rickards High School.

Francis wasn’t even supposed to be in the game, but his number was called after Terrell Jennings went out with turf toe and AJ Davis with an ankle sprain. 

The bye week should be a big one for Francis, who was fourth on the depth chart before he got his break.

He impressed by showing what Simmons called his “home run ability.” 

Then, Simmons went on to explain why having a free week of practice will be big for Francis.

“He still has a lot to learn,” Simmons said, “but he was one of the bright spots today on offense.”

Smith and kicker Jose Romo-Martinez did the rest of the scoring for the Rattlers. Smith, who had 189 all-purpose yards, scored an eight-yard TD catch in the second quarter that gave FAMU a 17-7 lead that the Rattlers took into halftime. Romo-Martinez nailed two second-half field goals to go with one he had in the second quarter.

“This win might have settled us down and say, ‘now let’s just play football,’ ” Smith said. “Let’s get back to what we were doing during the summer (and) during training camp.”

Simmons would relish that, especially now that they are entering a pivotal stretch.

“At the end of the day,” Simmons said, “it feels really good to be back in the win column.”


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