WASHINGTON, D.C. (Nov. 3) – Florida A&M’s hopes of a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Football title clincher went by the boards here Saturday afternoon at Greene Stadium, as the host Howard University Bison used a 21-point first quarter flurry to hold off their determined guests, 31-23.
Hold off was the operative phrase, as the Rattlers (6-3, 5-1 MEAC), took the opening kickoff and marched downfield, taking their only lead of the game, 7-0, on a three-yard run by Azende Rey with just over 13 minutes left (13:40).
The Bison (4-4, 4-2 MEAC) tied the score on the ensuing possession, as QB Cayllin Newton hit Jequez Ezzard with a 22-yard scoring strike with 11:34 to go, before RB Dedrick Parson raced in from 11 yards out with 7:26 left to put Howard ahead for good at 14-7.
FAMU’s Yahia Aly booted a 34-yard field goal with 3:59 left in the quarter to draw the Rattlers to within four points at 14-10, but Newton’s 12-yard aerial to Kyle Anthony staked his Bison to a 21-10 lead as the first quarter ended.
The Rattlers closed again in the second period to 21-17, as QB Ryan Stanley connected with the shifty Azende Rey on a 35-yard scoring play with 4:30 left in the half, a score made more exciting as the ball was punched from Rey’s grasp by a Bison defender as he neared the end zone, with Rey pouncing on the pigskin for the TD.
Newton’s one-yard sneak in the third period, extended the Bison lead to 28-17 with 4:16 left, but the Rattlers slithered close again, when Stanley connected with freshman WR Xavier Smith on a 15-yard scoring play with 12:44 left, to make the count, 28-23. The two-point conversion try failed.
Howard pushed the lead to the final count on a 24-yard field goal by Faraji Joseph with 8:32 left.
The Rattlers had two more possessions but came up empty both times.
THE MEAC RACE: Despite Saturday’s loss, the Rattlers still control their destiny, needing a win in the Florida Classic to wrap up the 2018 MEAC title… North Carolina A&T (4-1, 7-2), Howard (4-2, 4-4), North Carolina Central (3-2, 4-4) and Bethune-Cookman (2-2, 4-5 pending their Saturday game at Morgan State), all remain alive mathematically with FAMU’s loss on Saturday… A second FAMU setback would give the defending champion Aggies a clear shot at retaining their crown if they win their final two games… Howard, which holds the head-to-head tie-breaker over FAMU, would need to finish 5-2, hope FAMU falls in Orlando, and that the Aggies lose one more to force a first place tie, invoking some complicated tie breaker procedures since A&T and the Bison did not meet head-to-head this year…. GO RATTLERS!!!!
INSIDE THE NUMBERS: The Rattlers’ five-game win streak ends, but a winning season is assured, with the MEAC title still within reach…. QB Ryan Stanley passed for 281 yards and a pair of scoreds, completing 23 of 41 passes, with two interceptions… The running back tandem of Deshawn Smith (82 yards on 11 carries) and Bishop Bonnett (80 yards on 10 carries) powered the Rattler ground game which netted 159 yards Saturday… Freshman Xavier Smith led the FAMU receivers with six catches for 94 yards and one score, while Azende Rey had five grabs for 71 yards and a TD. Chad Hunter also had five catches for 58 yards….. Dedrick Parson led the Bison ground attack with 140 yards and one score on 26 carries, while Caylin Newton accounted for 222 total yards (172 passing, 50 rushing) and three (3) scores in Saturday’s showdown.
WHAT’S NEXT: The Rattlers have two games left on the 2018 regular season docket, a home finale non-conference dance with South Carolina State next Saturday at 4:00 p.m. in Bragg Stadium, before the Nov. 17 Florida Blue Florida Classic must-win showdown with archrival Bethune-Cookman at 2:00 p.m. at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida.