TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Nov. 7) – All-America Leroy Vann’s 51-yard punt return for a touchdown sparked a 14-point third quarter blitz, helping FAMU to hold off a determined North Carolina A&T squad, 31-27 in the Rattlers’ 2009 home finale in Bragg Memorial Stadium Saturday afternoon.
Vann’s runback capped the Rattlers’ third quarter rally that allowed them to overcome a 21-17 halftime deficit, setting and tying several school and national records in the process.
• The touchdown return shattered the single-season school record for TD punt returns set in 1988 by Howard Huckaby (4), and his 81 punt return yards Saturday, boosted his 2009 season total to 540 yards, surpassing Huckaby’s season high 478 yards, also established in 1988.
• The TD return for Vann tied an NCAA Division I FCS and MEAC single season high for returns of five (5), set by North Carolina A&T’s Curtis Deloach in 2001.
That third period flurry helped the Rattlers (7-2, 5-1 in MEAC) overhaul the Aggies (5-5, 3-4 in MEAC), after the visitors had used a similar 14-point surge midway through the second quarter to grab a 21-17 halftime advantage.
Saturday’s win allowed the Rattlers to remain mathematically alive in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title chase, and keep their at-large NCAA playoff hopes alive as well should they win their final two games.
The Rattlers scored on their first possession of the game, as quarterback Curtis Pulley found wideout Kevin Elliott for a 16-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead with 7:08 left in the first quarter.
The Aggies took advantage of a Rattler fumble by LeRoy Vann, to eventually tie the score 7-7, on a seven-yard run by Lewis Kindle with 17 seconds left in the period.
FAMU then regained the lead at 14-7, on a 22-yard run by Pulley with 14:14 left in the half, followed by a 31-yard field goal by Trevor Scott at the 8:23 mark, which extended the Rattlers’ edge to 17-7.
But the Aggies wouldn’t fold, scoring 14 points in a lightning fast 24 seconds to take their only lead of the game, 21-17.
Brett Fisher caught a 22-yard scoring toss from Kindle to close to 17-14 with 6:19 left in the half, then Terrence Whitaker snared a 23-yard aerial from Kindle to push the Aggies in front, 21-17 with 5:55 left in the second stanza.
Curtis Pulley, who had been the leading man for the Rattlers the past several weeks, left the game midway through the third period with a groin injury, but instead of putting a damper on FAMU, the intensity level seemed to soar, as they retook the lead in a four-minute span.
Junior halfback Philip Sylvester bolted untouched 40 yards for a touchdown with 6:44 left, lifting the Rattlers ahead for good, 24-21, then Vann brought the crowd at Bragg to its’ feet with his 51-yard minefield dash to pushed the FAMU bulge to 31-21 with 2:51 to play in the quarter.
But Vann’s next punt return try resulted in a lost fumble – his second of the game – giving the Aggies a chance to stay alive.
A&T cashed in the opportunity with an eight-yard run by Tallahassee DRS grad Dontavious Payne with 12:55 left in the game, slicing the FAMU lead to 31-27. But Wallace Miles’ PAT kick try was wide.
The Rattler Defense, which came up big with a stand in last week’s overtime win at Morgan, stuffed the Aggies on fourth and short in the final minute, prompting a furious reaction from the A&T bench, whose demands for a measurement by the officials fell on deaf ears.
Payne’s try for first down on fourth and two yards from the FAMU 23-yard line came up a yard short thanks to a stop from safety Fabian Wilson.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS: The two schools combined for nine (9) turnovers Saturday, with FAMU suffering six (6) giveaways (five fumbles, one interception), to three (3) for A&T (one interception, two fumbles)..... The Rattlers rushed for 191 yards Saturday, led by Pulley (seven for 79), Sylvester (13 for 71) and Vann (two for 27)…. Former Baby Rattler Dontavious Payne led the Aggies with 59 yards on 22 carries…. Pulley had 145 yards through the air on 9 of 17 passing, while Eddie Battle was 3 of 12 through the air for 31 yards, rushing twice for 18 yards…. Isaac West had six receptions Saturday for 111 yards, followed by Kevin Elliott with three grabs for 30 yards…. A&T’s Lewis Kindle was 16 of 30 passing for 206 yards and 2 TDs in his first collegiate start, rushing for 54 yards on 11 carries and another score…
GAME NOTES: Saturday’s win completed the first perfect home season for the Rattlers (4-0) – a year in which FAMU played in four Classics… North Carolina A&T featured four Tallahassee area players including Payne and eight Florida players all told….. Vann’s TD return was his first since the September 17 game against Howard….
WHAT’S NEXT: The Rattlers will finish the 2009 regular season on the road starting next week at Hampton University (1:00 p.m.), and against Bethune-Cookman (2:30 p.m. – ESPN Classic) in Orlando.