SAVANNAH, Ga. (Sept. 23) - A stirring defensive stand in the shadow of their end zone lifted the FAMU Football team past a determined Savannah State squad, 20-14 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference opener for both teams Saturday evening at Ted A. Wright Stadium.
The win for visiting FAMU (2-2, 1-0 MEAC) was their first win in a conference opener since 2012, while Savannah State (0-3, 0-1 MEAC) dropped their third straight in heartbreaking fashion within sight of the goal line.
Saturday's contest was hard-fought from start to finish, as the winless Tigers refused to relent for 60 minutes, drawing the game down to the final seconds.
Thankfully for FAMU, the Savannah State run game was neutralized as the Tigers had no time outs with 13 seconds left, and was forced to pass.
Both teams opened the game exchanging interceptions, with FAMU's Elijah Richardson picking off a Savannah State aerial, only to have Ryan Stanley toss an interception two plays later.
The Tigers converted the miscue into a 7-0 lead, on D'Vonn Gibbons' five-yard run, which capped an eight-play, 43 yard drive with 6:10 left.
FAMU answered with a 75-yard drive in seven played, capped by Stanley's 38-yard strike to freshman Chad Hunter for the tying score with 1:57 left in the quarter, following Khalil Clark's PAT kick.
The Rattlers dodged a bullet early in the second period, when a high snap on a punt try set the Tigers up on the FAMU 31-yard line. But the FAMU Defense stiffened, forcing the Tigers to punt from midfield.
Stanley then directed a 75-yard march, ending with a 15-yard strike to Chad Hunter for a touchdown and a 14-7 lead with 9:11 left in the half.
FAMU's Defense stepped up the heat in the period, recording a pair of sacks, while limiting the Tigers to just 26 yards of offense on 10 plays.
RB Devin Bowers rushed for 68 yards on 14 carries in the opening half, while Stanley was an efficient eight of 11 passing, for 113 yards and two TDs.
FAMU opened the secon half with the ball, moving to the SSU 40 before their drive stalled. Punter Chris Faddoul pinned the Tigers on their own 10-yartd line.
The Tigers managed five yards before having the punt back to FAMU, whivh starte their next drive from their own 34 yard line, two solid defensive plays led to the Rattler drive stalling, leading to a Faddoul punt.
Starting from thir own 31, the Tigers offense were able managed eight yards before punting back to FAMU, which struggle to mount a ground attack against the Tigers defense. Stanley's third down pass for 25 yards to Chaviss Murphy was just enough for a first down at the FAMU 47.
However a holding penalty and an incomplete pass, stalled the Rattlrs scoring bid, forcing a punt which landed at the Tiger two-yard line.
The Tigers drove 99 yards in 12 plays, capped by D'Vonn Gibbons' 41-yard sprint around right end for a 14-13 count with 11:57 lft in the fourth quarter. After three tries, Giovanni Lugo booted the PAT to tie the count at 14-14.
FAMU responded with a 12-play, 91-yard drive, capped by Tevin Spells, who punched it in from seven yards with 6:11 left. But Khalil Clark's PAT kick was wide left, leaving the Rattlers clinging to a 20-14 edge.
On the ensuing possession, Savannah drove to the FAMU 41, where the two squad exchanged five yard penalties, driving into the red zone with under 40 seconds left.
SSU ran a pair of running plays, with QB Gibbons recovering his own fumble at the FAMU four, then after an exchnge of timeouts, two Savannah State passes were batted away on third and fourth down.
FAMU took possession and ran a kneel down play to end the game.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS: FAMU edged SSU in total yards, 335-304, but the Tigers doubled up the Rattlers on the ground, 242-121....Devin Bowers had a season high 115 yards on 21 csrries, while Ryan Stanley finished 17 of 25 for 214 ysrds and two TD tosses... Freshman Chad Hunter led the Rattlers with six catches for 96 yards and two TDs, while senior Chaviss Murphy has six grabs for 74 yards, making a trio of clutch third down conversion grabs.... Jakaris Wilson led the FAMU defense with 12 tackles, a sack and tackle for loss, while Terry Jefferson added nine tackles and a tackle for loss.
@ T.A. Wright Stadium, the site of this evening's game, was named in honor of the late SSU football coach and athletic director, Theodore "Ted" Wright, who served in the same role at FAMU from 1930 to 1932. It was completed in 1969.
@ FAMU came into the game looking for its first conference opening win since September 2012, when they bested Hampton University, 44-20 in Tallahassee.
@ Contrary to earlier reports, Savannah State will not be exiting Division One before the 2019-20 school year, meaning the Tigers will have two years remaining before a possible drop down.
@ Savannah State starting QB T.J. Bell was injured in last week's game against Montana, and he was expected to be a game time decision, but he was listed as doubtful with a lower leg injury.
WHAT'S NEXT: The Rattlers will play their first home game since their August 26 opener against Texas Southern. next Thursday against defending MEAC champion North Carolina Central (2-1, 1-0 MEAC) in a nationally-televised bout on ESPNU, kicking off at 7:30 p.m.