Classic win proves Rattlers destined for greatness

Terrell Jennings rushes to the end zone on one of his two touchdown runs.
Photo by FAMU athletics
St. Claire Murraine

ORLANDO — Bethune-Cookman University couldn‘t stop coach Willie Simmons and the FAMU Rattlers, no matter how hard the Wildcats tried in the Florida Classic.

See, this FAMU football team is one that worked itself to capture the attention of the nation. Coaches who make up the FCS poll ranked the Rattlers the fifth-best at that level in the country. 

And, Saturday when the Rattlers defeated Bethune-Cookman 24-7 in front of the largest crowd since 2011 (56,227) at Camping World Stadium, the team got a little more notoriety by becoming the first FAMU squad since 1999 to win 10 games.

As if for a Grammy winning producer, the accolades keep coming. Running back Terrell Jennings was named MVP of the Classic for his two-touchdown performance. Just weeks earlier, the Rattlers brought home a trophy for winning the East Division in the SWAC.

An even bigger prize is highly likely to come on Dec. 2 when the Rattlers host Prairie View for the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship. That will take place on Ken Riley Field at Bragg Stadium, where FAMU took a 45-7 win over the Panthers a month ago.

The win in Orlando gave FAMU a 10-1 overall record and 8-0 in the SWAC.

For those who figured that FAMU’s performance was pretty routine, Coach Simmons had the answer.

“I told these guys yesterday, we are not going to change anything,” he said afterward. “We are 10-1. We clearly have done something right, but every game is a new challenge.”

That win didn’t just happen, right coach?

“We work for this,” is how Simmons responded. “This isn’t just something that happens. We don’t just roll the football out there and just go play.” 

The Rattlers were relentless in their final regular season game, taking every opportunity that the Wildcats gave them. B-CU just didn’t look anything like the team that a week earlier racked up 412 yards of offense, with three players that rushed for more than 100 yards against Alabama A&M. 

Two of them were Jimmy Robinson III and Walter Simmons III. A defense led by Eric Smith and Isaiah Major was just too much for Robinson and Simmons.

B-CU first-year coach Raymond Woodie Jr. hadn’t watched the game film yet but he knew exactly what ailed the Wildcats (3-8, 2-6).

“Well, I mean, obviously execution is the key,” he said. “When you have one missed block, one missed catch, one bad throw, we should have been more sound in execution, and that is on us as coaches. I just think we had our chances, but we didn’t seize the moment when we had opportunities to and against a team like FAMU — any team, especially a team like them — every situation they give you, you have to seize the moment in the right situation so you can get points on the board and get the momentum.” 

FAMU’s defense was at its best and those two players just weren’t enough to give the Wildcats what they needed to be competitive.

At least Eric Smith didn’t. His career-high two interceptions in a game set FAMU up to score 10 points. His first resulted in a 44-yard field goal by Cameron Gillis that gave the Rattlers a 17-0 halftime lead.

Early in the third quarter, the wildcats seemed to have adjusted but didn’t do much more than use up five minutes in a drive that ended with a punt.

However, they keep looking for opportunities by relying on Robinson and Simmons to provide much of the offense in an aggressive drive. Aided by two flags, they got within one yard of scoring. They were pushed back five yards by a formation penalty, then Simmons beat three FAMU defenders and got B-CU’s only score.

Defensively, FAMU refused to break. The Rattlers held B-CU to 234 yards of total offense, compared to 325.

Quarterback Jeremy Moussa had one of his best Saturday evenings, connecting with eight receivers. Jah’Marae Sheread, was his lead guys with five catches for 38 yards.

After Dec. 2, there will be one more chances left for the Rattlers to prove their superiority in the SWAC. That’s the Celebration Bowl against Howard University from the MEAC in Atlanta on Dec. 16.

So Simmons is calling on his players to stay focused.

“We have got to make sure we are doing the little things right,” he said. “Just proud of the guys. They are growing up right before our eyes, and this journey that we started this year. We think we are going to finish it the way we all envision doing so.”

At least Rattler Nation is in agreement.


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