Florida A&M 53, Howard 20There is something about the Howard University Bison football team that appears to bring the best out of the Florida A&M Rattlers. After struggling two weeks ago against Morgan State at home and being thoroughly dominated by Tennessee State last week, there were many in Tallahassee, FL, who were wondering out loud whether the team was in trouble.
But the Rattlers silenced their cynics, at least for the moment and regained some confidence with a 53-20 demolition of Howard in a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference game at Greene Stadium. It marked the eighth straight time that Florida A&M University (3-1 overall, 3-0 in the MEAC) has defeated the Bison.
It was a game that featured big plays on offense, defense and special teams by the Rattlers, who played their most complete game of the year.
"When a teams like Florida A&M come off a loss, they usually respond with championship-caliber intensity," said Howard Coach Steve Wilson. "The backs run a little harder, the blockers block better and the speed of the game increases."
Senior fullback Kelsie Lordeus (16 carries, 70 yards, 3 TDs) got the Rattlers going early by scoring the game's first touchdown on a five-yard run as FAMU put together a 12-play, 84-yard drive that took 4:24. That drive set the tone for the day as Florida A&M converted three, third-and-long plays. The Bison compounded their problems by missing several tackles on a number of plays that should have netted either negative or little yardage.
The Rattlers scored again on a short drive, with Lordeus scoring again this time from 13 yards out to make it, 14-0.
Howard (1-3 overall, 1-2 in the MEAC) finally got it going when it went 64 yards in 11 plays, with junior quarterback Donald Clark hooking up with senior wide receiver Jevonte Philpot from 25 yards out with just 1:23 left before halftime.
Then came what has typified Howard-Florida A&M games the past eight years. Facing a first-and-10 from the Howard 42 with 19 ticks on the clock, FAMU senior quarterback Quinn Gray lined up in the shotgun. The snap from center sailed high over his head and as he retreated back to retrieve the ball, he somehow managed to pick it up, escape three Howard defenders and get off a pass to junior wide receiver Marco Junious, who caught the ball at the Howard 20 and weaved his way in for the score that for all intents and purposes doomed the Bison. Instead of trailing just 14-6 at halftime, Howard was down 20-6 and never recovered.
"In a situation like that, you just try to get rid of the ball," explained Gray. "It definitely gave us a lot of momentum going into the second half."
"Obviously, that was a game-changing play," added Wilson. "As a coach, you are prepared to talk to your team about what you are going to do in the second half, only down 14-6. All of a sudden, everything changes when they score with 19 seconds left and you are down 20-6."
Opportunistic Florida A&M capitalized by scoring 24 straight points on Lordeus' third TD of the day, a returned fumble for 65 yards by junior defensive back Carl Shazor, a short 3 -yard TD pass from Gray to junior tight end Fa'amalo Lutu and a 7-yard TD run by senior reserve running back Travles Williams.
The usually high-powered Florida A&M offense, which had come under fire from Rattler fans, may have found something in its running game, which punished the Bison defense for a season-high 261 yards. Howard came into the game allowing only 88 yards per game on the ground, tops in the conference.
Meanwhile, the Howard running game thought it had found itself last week in the win over Morgan. But the quick and speedy FAMU group, which was last in the MEAC allowing 216 yards per game, held the Bison to 71 yards.
Gray, who had been criticized for his poor performance in the loss to Tennessee State (three interceptions), played an efficient game, completing 11 of 18 passes for 129, two TDs and no interceptions. He personally made life miserable for the Bison defense with his poise in play calling and his big plays on third down. On the day, Florida A&M converted on 50 percent (6 of 12) of its attempts.
The offensive line also did a fine job of protecting Gray and opening holes for Lordeus and Company. Gray was sacked only twice by the Bison defense, which came in the game with 21 on the season, best in the MEAC.
Clark, on the other hand, was sacked five times and threw two interceptions before being pulled in the third quarter. Philpot contined his campaign for top receiver in the MEAC with four receptions for 82 yards and his seventh TD of the year.
The road does not get any easier for the Bison, who travel to Indianapolis, IN next week to take on Tennessee State, the same team that dominated Florida A&M last week.