The Willie Simmons Era of Florida A&M University Football opened literally with a flash of lightning, as the Rattlers dominated a game Fort Valley State team, 41-7 Saturday evening at Bragg Memorial Stadium.
A near-sellout crowd of 20,262 packed the venerable stadium to witness the first varsity game on the recently installed Astro Turf, watching the Rattlers take an early 13-0 lead, thanks to a one-yard blast by sophomore running back Ricky Henrilus, and a pair of Yahia Aly field goals (38, 43 yards).
Right after Aly’s second fielder, severe thunderstorms dropped forks of lightning to the south of campus, leading to a delay of over 45 minutes, as the field and stadium were cleared.
When the action resumed, Fort Valley State (0-1), which had a recent history for playing the Rattlers close, came out of the break and struck quickly, as Lorenzo Smothers took a pass from Jarman Slade and dashed 92 yards for a touchdown, slicing the Rattlers’ edge to 13-7 with 4:30 left in the second period.
FAMU junior quarterback Ryan Stanley answered back moments later, hitting Xavier Smith with a 28-yard scoring strike with 2:15 left in the half, to stake the Rattlers to a 20-7 lead at the break.
The Rattler Defense dominated all game, holding the Wildcats to a minus 12 yards rushing on 28 tries, recording five sacks and 10 tackles for loss, applying relentless pressure
With the GanGreen Defense frustrating the Boys from Middle Georgia, FAMU’s offense began to put on the display the depth of talent that Coach Simmons and his staff have assembled, while giving fans a peak at some of the explosive potential of the new Read Option attack.
Yahia Aly extended the Rattlers’ edge to 23-7 on his third field goal of the game, a 24-yard boot with 9:21 left in the third, then Ryan Stanley tossed his second scoring pass, a nine-yard dart to Marcus Williams with 6:01 left in the quarter, for a 30-7 lead.
Aly then went to work, nailing three more three-pointers from 29, 26 and 29 yards, to set a new FAMU single game mark for field goals made with six, eclipsing the previous mark of five (5) held jointly by Chase Varnadore (vs. North Carolina Central in 2012) and Juan Vansquez (vs. Morgan State in 2000).
Prior to Aly’s final kick with 2:29 to play, FAMU pounced on a bad snap on a punt which bounded into the end zone for a safety, with 8:52 left.
FAMU’s Offense deployed a bevy of running backs who combined for 276 rushing yards, paced by speedy sophomore Bishop Bonnett, who finished with a team high 76 yards on eight carries. Sophomore Azende Rey had a 40-yard burst on a run play, and led the club with three catches for 25 yards.
Other Rattler backs in the talented arsenal that should come into play this season included Hans Supre (seven for 37 yards), Henrilus (seven for 34), backup QB D.J. Phillips (32 yards on four carriesin the second half), freshman Eddie Timman (three tires, 31 yards) and senior Devin Bowers (seven carries, 22 yards).
Sophomore kicker Chris Faddoul had only two punts on Saturday, but he made the most of his chances, averaging 60 yards per boot, with a long of 61 yards which resulted in a touchback.
Defensively, leading the charge were linebackers Derrick Mayweather and Kendrick Kelly with six tackles each. Mayweather added a quarterback sack and a tackle for loss, while Antonio Miller had five tackles, two for loss and a sack. Senior Orlando McKinley had a pass interception, while Doyle Grimes returned a fumbled 20 yards, and Elijah Daniels was in on the play that resulted in a safety for the Rattlers in the south end zone.
WHAT’S NEXT: The Rattlers hit the road next week to face off against Troy (Ala.) University at 6:00 p.m. Central Time on ESPN Plus.