Rattlers look to end SWAC drought in Celebration Bowl

Florida A&M defeats Prairie View 35-14 to win their first SWAC Football Championship. Running back Terrell Jennings leaps a defender.
FAMU’s offensive line gets set to protect quarterback Jeremy Moussa against Prairie View.
Photo by Glenn Beil

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook Staff Writer

During the Deion Sanders two-season era at Jackson State, his team was favored to win the Celebration Bowl. The Tigers failed each time.

With losses by Jackson State in the bowl game for the Black College Football National Championship, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference holds a 6-1 series lead. 

On Saturday, FAMU will represent the SWAC as conference champions against Howard University, winner of the MEAC. The onus has been on the Rattlers since they secured the bowl berth by beating Prairie View for the conference title a little more than a week ago.

Given the teams’ records, FAMU is favored with an 11-1 record, while Howard goes into the noon game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium with a 6-5 record. That and the outcomes for the Tigers seemingly were on coach Willie Simmons’ mind when he spoke with reporters Monday.

“We have to make sure that we prevent those same things from happening,” Simmons said, obviously referring to the SWAC’s fate in the bowl game. “It’s a business trip. The bowl is a great experience for our players, our coaches, our staff (and) families. But at the end of the day it’s about the game on Saturday.”

FAMU won the last meeting between the two teams in 2019 when they were in MEAC. A year earlier, the Bison derailed the Rattlers quest for the Celebration Bowl with an upset victory.

This time a shot at a national title rides on the outcome.

“You’ve got two top team in Black college football it’s definitely going to be a game that people want to see,” Simmons said. “I think it’s going to be a great game. I think with everything that has happened this year and how we have grown as a football team, we will be able to go in and take care of business.”

Howard is making its first appearance in the Celebration Bowl.  The Bison earned its berth by defeating Morgan State University 14-7 on Nov. 18.

FAMU is going into the game ranked fifth in the FCS Coaches Poll after recording its first 10-win season since 1999. The Rattlers are heavily favored because they bring the SWAC’s top-ranked offense which scored 48 touchdowns. The Rattlers also scored the most points with 30.7 per game this season.

Howard also is going into the game with a solid offense that averages 383.7 yards per game. The Bison also are second in the MEAC in passing (202.8 yards per game).

FAMU’s defense, however, is figured to be the equalizer. The Rattlers are ranked second in total defense among FSC teams, allowing 4.23 yards per play. 

The Rattlers left Tallahassee on Wednesday for Atlanta. Simmons acknowledged that there are plenty of distractions in the city but his team understands the goal is to be undefeated for the weekend.

“If we do that all our goals that we set for ourselves come true,” Simmons said. “We have to look at what’s right here in front of us and that’s a good Howard football team that’s well coached; beat the teams they needed to beat in the MEAC to get to this place. We don’t need to focus on anything other than that. If we do that we will be just fine.”

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