ORLANDO, Fla. (Sept. 1) - FAMU head coach Earl Holmes won his first contest as the permanent head coach of the Florida A&M Rattlers, as they defeated the Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils 27-10 in the 2013 MEAC-SWAC Challenge presented by Disney. The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference extends their winning streak to five with the victory, here Sunday afternoon at the Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando.
In addition, FAMU has won their third straight contest against Southwestern Athletic Conference member MVSU. The Rattlers faced the Delta Devils, twice before as FAMU defeated MVSU, 10-0 in 1987 and 28-13 in 1990.
This was FAMU's second appearance in the MEAC-SWAC Challenge. The Rattlers dropped a 33-27 decision to Southern University in the third MEAC-SWAC Challenge in 2007 at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala.
Holmes was happy with the effort he saw from his team, but feels they have to solidify the game plan and concentrate on working out the kinks. "The most important thing is to make your biggest improvement between the first and second games. It's always easier to correct the guys with a win. We did some things well, but there are certainly some things we need to work on. We can now move forward after getting this first win under our belts," Holmes said.
The Rattlers would be the first to light up the scoreboard as they capitalized on a MVSU punting error as the ball was snapped over the punter's head, resulting in a 30-yard loss, giving the FAMU offense the ball on the MVSU 12-yard line.
Four plays later, FAMU quarterback Damien Fleming would score on a six-yard scamper with 10:50 remaining in the first quarter, giving the Rattlers a 7-0 lead after the Chase Varnadore made PAT.
The Rattler defense would then bend, but not break as MVSU quarterback Patrick Ivy would run for 63 yards, before Jonathan Pillow made the touchdown-saving tackle on the FAMU six-yard line.
FAMU would then come up big as they forced the MVSU offense to turn the ball over on downs, with the Rattler defense stalling the Delta Devils for a one-yard loss.
The Rattlers mounted their longest drive of the game as they grinded out a 16-play, 96-yard drive, taking 8:07 off the clock, capped off by an Omari Albert one-yard run, increasing the Rattlers' lead to 14-0, after the Varnadore made PAT. FAMU went into the break with a 20-0 lead as they capitalized on two Varnadore field goals from 27 and 23 yard out.
With the shutout in the first half, the Rattlers appearaed to be working on all cylinders. It would be lapses in the third quarter that allowed the Delta Devils back into the contest. Holmes recognized that his team wasn't fully in sync during the second half. "As to be expected, the defense is a little ahead of the offense. The offense did come out hot. They kind of settled down in the second half. With about eight minutes left in the fourth quarter, they found a way to dictate the game. As long as we can protect the ball and fall forward, everything else will take care of itself," Holmes said.
MVSU would score their first points of the second half as Cherchen Galon connected on a 21-yard field goal, cutting FAMU's lead to 20-3 with 3:20 to go in the third quarter.
The Delta Devils would then score their only TD of the game on a Jeremy Collins two-yard run with 10:21 left in the contest, making the score 20-10, in favor of FAMU, after the Galon made PAT.
The Rattlers would then lean on a methodical running game to seal the victory. With Fleming out with heat-related issues, Carson Royal took the helm of the Rattlers, as offensive coordinator Quinn Gray, would ground the Rattlers in a rushing fiasco. Holmes' and Gray's philosophies met in perfect harmony as the team drove the field, taking precious time off the clock. In committing to running, the Rattlers pulled in a new talented back. "We had to control the line of scrimmage with three running backs that we knew were ready in James Owens, Al-Terek McBurse and Lemond Buice. Today we found out that Omari Albert is ready to play as well. All of those guys found a way to fall forward today, so we've just got to work on getting them to the second level of the defense," Holmes said.
Al-Terek McBurse would score the Rattlers' final TD of the game on a 14-yard run, for the 27-10 final with 1:11 left in the game, after the Varnadore made PAT.
McBurse would finish the contest as the Rattlers' leading rusher with 55 yards on six carries with one TD, followed by Omari Albert with 47 yards on 11 carries and one TD.
Fleming tallied 110 yards through the air as he connected on eight passes on 18 attempts with one interception.
Lenworth Lennon led the Rattlers receiving corps as he gained 85 yards on four receptions with his longest catch being for 35 yards.
Michael Ducre finished the game as the Rattlers' leading tackler with eight tackles (7 solos, 1 Asst) and one tackle for loss.
Ivy finished the contest as the Delta Devils' leading rusher as he gained 74 yards on five carries.
Collins, the MVSU signal caller, passed for 63 yards as he completed five passes in 15 attempts with one interception. In addition, he scored the Delta Devils' only TD of the game as he rushed for 21 yards on three carries.
Jeremy Johnson led the Delta Devils in tackles with 13 tackles (8 solos, 5 asst) and one pass breakup.
While the game was in Orlando, Holmes said the game felt eerily like a home game because of the familiarity with the Citrus Bowl, the return of the Marching "100" and other factors. "It felt a lot like playing in Bragg Stadium. When we were about to kick the ball off, some of the players commented on how it felt like home. With all of the fans and having the band back and the cheerleaders, that 12th man made all the difference in the world today," Holmes said.
The attendance for the game was 24,763, making it the second-largest MEAC-SWAC Challenge attendance, but the largest since the contest moved to orlando. The highest attended game in the history of the matchup was when it eclipsed 30,000 in 2007, when the Rattlers faced the Southern University Jaguars.FAMU will return to action as they will host Tennessee State in their home opener on Sat., Sept. 7 at Bragg Memorial Stadium in the