NASHVILLE,TN (Sept.1) - The storied rivalry between the FAMU Rattlers (0-1, 0-0 MEAC) and TSU Tigers (1-0, 0-0 OVC) lived up to its historic billing as the game's outcome swung in the balance until the final seconds ran off the clock. In the end, a pile in the South end zone would send the officials scavenging for the results. After a short delay, they ruled that FAMU quarterback Damien Fleming's quarterback sneak did not cross the plane.
The call deflated a rally that saw the Rattlers come from 17 points down, to within a hair of pulling off the improbable comeback. Tennessee State snapped the Florida A&M Football team's five-game win streak in Tennessee as the Tigers held on for the win. The final blow would be a defensive stand, where FAMU begin their last drive of the game on their own 12-yard line
Head coach joe Taylor was disappointed with the outcome, but found a silver lining in the defeat. "My opinion of our team has not changed. I told the team, with the character that we showed in coming back, can only make us better," a dejected Taylor said. He wholeheartedly believed that the ball had crossed the plane.
In addition, Taylor said he still feels strongly about this team. "Preparing for next week, we'll have to go back and look at the film and see where we need to improve. We've got to get better at what we're doing. We had players who never drop passes, dropping passes and there were a few throws that our quarterback didn't step into, that he normally does. They are not major things, but things we'll work on to get better," Taylor added.
"We've got a good football team. This close game showed that we do. We were a little bit concerned about our youth coming in to the season, but I thought we stepped it up and they showed a lot of character and fought hard. My mind has not changed that we have a good football team," he emphasized.
TSU would be the first to light up the scoreboard as quarterback Michael German connected with Devin Wilson from 22-yards out, giving the Tigers a 7-0 lead after the Jamin Godfrey PAT, with 10:19 remaining in the first quarter.
On their first possession of the third quarter, TSU would add to their lead as Godfrey connected on a 38-yard field goal, giving the Tigers a 10-0 ;ead, capping a nine-play, 38-yard drive with 11:35 remaining in the third quarter.
A 15-yard roughing the kicker call would set up TSU's second TD of the game as Trabis Ward would score from six-yards out, increasing the Tigers' lead to 17-0, after the made Godfrey PAT with 4:11 left in the third quarter, capping a nine-play, 80 yard drive by TSU.
A 65-yard scamper by quarterback Damien Fleming would set up the Rattlers' first TD of the game as Tyler Bass would connect with Travis Harvey for a 17-yard TD with 2:51 remaining in the third quarter. Bass was in for Fleming who was suffering with leg cramps near the end of the drive, but he would return on the next drive.
<img src="/pics32/300/VQ/VQVSRSIWZNTFRJK.20120902035645.jpg" height="225" width="300" border="0" />
Fleming would throw his second TD of the game as he found Michael Etheridge in the back of the end zone cutting, the Tigers' lead to 17-14, after the Chase Varnadore PAT with 9:32 to go in the fourth quarter, capping an eight-play, 59 yard drive.
The FAMU defense gave up 17 points in the first half, but shut out the Tigers in the second half. Defensive Ellie Hyppolite had a breakout game and was a big part of the tightening of the Rattler defense. Hyppolite, said he and his teammates will use this as a learning experience, that they can't spot any team that many points. "I felt like I was comfortable in the defense that coach Small and coach Holmes put us in. I just give them credit for teaching me the techniques and giving us the mindset to play well. We push each other daily. I can only accept this as an okay ending, because I would trade all my stats for a 'w' (win). We're going to spring off this and go to Oklahoma next week and try to dominate there," Hyppolite said.
FAMU was paced by Fleming as he rushed for 100 yards on 13 carries and passed for 119 yards as he completed 15 passes in 30 attempts with one TD and one interception. He finished the game with 219 yards of total offense. Travis Harvey was the leading receiver for the Rattlers as he recorded 52 yards on six catches with one TD.
Defensively FAMU was led by Brandon Hepburn as he tallied a team-high 10 tackles, 1.5 sacks for six yards lost, 3.5 tackles for loss, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. In addition, was named co-MVP of the 14th Annual John Merritt Classic.
TSU's ground attack was paced by Trabis Ward as he rushed for 124 yards on 28 carries with one TD, while Michael German passed for 263 yards as he completed 22 passes in 32 attempts with one TD and one interception and he was named the Classic offensive MVP.
Devin Wilson led the Tigers in receptions as he recorded two receptions for 66 yards with one TD.
Nick Thrasher was named theJohn Merritt Classic co-MVP as he finished the game with 11 tackles and 2.0 tackles for loss.
Hyppolite and his teammates are determined to turn show that they are a better team. "As a team we showed that we have heart. We came from down 17-0 in the first half to shut them out in the second half. We have to get better at all aspects. We have to try to play perfect. Even though there is no perfect, we have to try to play that way," he concluded.
The win for TSU gives, the Tigers their first win over the Rattlers in Music City with FAMU winning the last five meeting with FAMU winning the first match up in Nashville 31-28 in 1977 as the Rattlers finished the season 11-0, in their first ever meeting in Nashville. The Rattlers handed the Tigers a 23-6 defeat in 1988, pulled out a 23-13 win in 1992, bested the Tigers 14-10 in 1994 and got a 32-20 victory in 1996.
In addition, FAMU goes to 3-1 in season openers against TSU as the Rattlers defeated the Tigers, 43-28 in 1997, 35-20 in 1996 and 23-15 in 1993.
This is the seventh game in the series, since 2003 where it came down to the last play of the game with FAMU pulling out a win in six of the last seven matchup. In addition in a penalty stricken game, TSU committed 20 penalties for 178 yards, the most they have committed in the series. The Tigers committed 13 penalties for 153 yards in the 2002 match up.
FAMU will return to action as they will travel out west to take on Big 12 member the University of Oklahoma on September, 8 at Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in a 6 p.m. CST kick.