Simmons wants first punch from Rattlers

Jamari Gassett led FAMU receivers with 77 yards, including a 58 yard touchdown catch for the Rattlers’ first score against Texas Southern.
Photo by Wayne Dunwoody 

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook Staff Writer

Willie Simmons is never short on analogies when it comes to making a point about his FAMU football team. He turned to prizefighting to explain what the Rattlers have shown in their last three games, having to rally to victories.

Last Saturday’s 31-21 victory was the most scary, as FAMU went into halftime down by a touchdown before dominating the second half to escape Houston with the win over Texas Southern.

The way the Rattlers played the first half reminded him of two highly-rated boxers in a pivotal fight, Simmons said.

“That’s kind of how we have been as a football team,” he said. “We will come out the first half and just kind of play around with them. Let’s see how hard they hit, let’s see how fast they are (and) can they match our speed. Once we see if they can or can’t, then we decide to play football.”

Simmons would like to see a fast start by the Rattlers. For one thing, he wants a homecoming victory. Secondly, a win and a Texas A&M loss in the Magic City Classic would clinch the East Division title for the Rattlers.

On top of that, the Rattlers’ 17-game home winning streak will be on the line.

Prairie View presents the challenge for the Rattlers this Saturday on Ken Riley Field at Bragg Stadium. The Panthers are coming with a record of 3-4 overall and 3-1 in conference play. They are in a first-place tie with Southern and Alcorn, both teams owning a 3-1 conference records.

Simmons, who got his 60th win as a head coach by beating the Tigers, will be facing two of his former assistants when the Panthers come to town. 

“I know that guys will be fired up; ready to play,” said Simmons. “They are coming off a bye week so they’ve had a chance to scout us for two weeks straight. We’ve got to make sure we are ready to match their intensity.”

Despite all that’s on the line, there is the challenge that homecoming brings for the players to stay focused. Simmons said he has beseeched his players to stay zoned in on the game.

“There are lots of distractions, parties,” he said. “We have got to make sure we handle that the right way. We’ve got to make sure we sacrifice the parties, sacrifice the fun.”

FAMU improved to 6-1, 5-0 with the win that dropped Texas Southern to 2-5, 1-3.

After trailing 14-7 at halftime, FAMU didn’t let the Tigers score more than the one touchdown they had in the fourth quarter. The Rattlers racked up 435 yards of total offense to 324 for the Tigers.

Unlike the last three games, they managed to move the ball on the ground for 255 yards. In addition to three straight scoring drives in the second half, the Rattlers also got a 39-yard field goal from Cameron Gillis. 

Quarterback Jeremy Moussa completed 17 of 32 passes for 180 yards. He threw two touchdowns to Jamari Gassett and Kareem Burke. By comparison, the Tigers’ quarterback Jace Wilson was 16 of 29 for 183. Each of the quarterbacks was intercepted once. Wilson was sacked three times and Moussa once.

Although Simmons said he’s used just about every speech by famous coaches to motivate his players, the halftime talk wasn’t a hell raiser. However, he seemingly has concerns about the games of two halves that his team has been playing.

“This has become our identity,” he said. “I don’t like it but it has become what we have done this season; play one phenomenal half of ball and play one below-average half of ball. We are still searching for that complete game. Still trying to find ways to motivate the guys. I think it’s more of a mindset. I don’t think it’s that we are not capable of playing 60 minutes. We have shown that when we put it all together we can’t be stopped.”

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