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Rattlers defense shines while offense struggles to find groove in 7-6 loss to Jackson State

Published: Sep. 5, 2021 at 6:56 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 7, 2021 at 1:32 PM EDT
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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (WCTV) - Florida A&M University was able to muster just two first half field goals as they fell in their first game of the 2021 season, 7-6, to the Jackson State Tigers in the 2021 Orange Blossom Classic.

The Tigers victory is the third straight for JSU (1-0, 1-0) over FAMU (0-1, 0-1), who now lead the all-time series 11-7-2.

FAMU has lost consecutive games for the first time since November 10 and Nov. 17, 2018, when they fell to South Carolina State and Bethune-Cookman to close the campaign.

On the final play of the first half, FAMU kicker Jose Romo-Martinez had a 48-yard field goal attempt get blocked by a rusher off the edge that would have given the Fangs a two-point lead at the halftime break. Instead, it sent the teams into the locker room with Jackson State leading 7-6 and neither team would score in the second half to change that result.

The Rattlers opened the second half with possession and looked to be cruising, marching to the JSU 48 yardline, but Terrell Jennings fumbled a first and 10 handoff to end the possession and give the Tigers a chance to add to their lead.

FAMU, however, responded, forcing a three-and-out on the first two JSU possessions of the half and forced another punt after just four plays before the Tigers put together their best drive of the game.

Jackson State marched 73 yards on 11 plays, a drive that started on their own eight yardline, to get to the FAMU 19 but opted to go for it on fourth and one and were stuffed, giving life back to the Rattlers.

The Fangs, though, did not take advantage of the opportunity, turning the ball over on downs on each of their last two possessions and unable to get into field goal territory to give Romo-Martinez a chance to put FAMU on top.

FAMU struck first on their first drive of the game, knocking through a 21-yard field goal to give the Rattlers a 3-0 lead off the heels of a 10-play, 23-yard drive that was aided by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Jackson State, who thought they had picked up a free ball and returned it over 80 yards for a touchdown.

Instead, video replay confirmed the ball was an incomplete pass, batted down by JSU at the line of scrimmage, but the penalty still stood, putting the Rattlers in business at the JSU nine yardline.

After netting the game’s first points, the Rattler offense struggled, combining for just five yards of offense over their next three possessions against a ferocious pass rush from the Tigers, who made FAMU starting quarterback Rasean McKay’s day very uncomfortable with near consistent pressure.

Jackson State scored the game’s first touchdown off the heels of a 10-play, 69-yard drive and almost entirely behind the arm of JSU quarterback Shedeur Sanders.

Of the 69-yards on the scoring drive for the Tigers, Sanders accounted for 64 of them: 61 through the air and three on the ground, including a one-yard rush at the goalline for the touchdown, giving the Tigers a 7-6 lead.

FAMU’s defense responded, though, forcing Sanders to fumble in each of JSU’s final two drives of the first half.

The Rattlers took each fumble down for a field goal attempt: One was made, a Romo-Martinez field goal from 39-yards out to bring the Fangs within 7-6 and another was blocked, from 48-yards out, as time expired in the first half.

Sanders was nothing short of electric at times in his first ever start, completing 18 of 24 passes for 221 yards.

McKay struggled, throwing for just 78 yards on 18-of-29 passing, dealing with a consistent pass rush from the front four of JSU’s defensive line.

Junior Muratovic relieved McKay in the second half and didn’t fare much better, going 5-for-11 for 47 yards and struggled on the Rattlers’ final drive to put them in a position to potentially win the game, including taking a delay of play penalty before the ball was snapped on the final possession.

FAMU’s running game is what kept them competitive on offense. As a team, the Fangs ran for 110 yards, led by 80 from Bonnett on 16 carries and another 35 on seven carries by Jennings.

JSU found some success on the ground as well, most notably from Peytton Pickett, who rushed for 62 yards on 15 touches.

The Rattlers will return to the field this coming Saturday in their first home game of the season against Fort Valley State University. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m.

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