Facing a listing North Carolina A&T should be no solace to Florida A&M. Not when the Rattlers are coming off one of their most mistake-filled performances of the year.
Not when there is sole possession of second place in the MEAC on the line this Saturday.
In a back-and-forth homecoming victory over Morgan State, yellow flags poured like rain. In all, the Rattlers lost 157 yards on 21 penalties. That’s a team record for Florida A&M (5-3 overall, 4-1 in the MEAC).
“No way,” Florida A&M coach Joe Taylor said after the game, “does 21 penalties define the kind of techniques that we are teaching.”
His offense, which has slipped to No. 7 in the nine-team Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, sputtered. Quarterback Martin Ukpai ended up connecting on only five of 19 attempts, though long completions to Isaac West and T.J. Lawrence — now second among the Rattlers in all-purpose yards — meant Ukpai ended up with 130 total passing yards. FAMU was just 2-of-13 on third down — and actually had fewer first downs than Morgan State.
[Bethune-Cookman, Grambling still splitting top votes in HBCU polls.]
Meanwhile, Florida A&M gave up consecutive touchdowns to let the Bears back in the game, before the defense made a critical interception with 7:17 left off Morgan State quarterback Delonte Williams, the reigning MEAC rookie of the week. Jerral Stewart returned it 37 yards for a touchdown that gave FAMU the lead for good.
That defense, now ranked fifth overall in the MEAC and seventh against the run, must now find a way to bottle up Mike Mayhew, who has rushed for 1,042 yards and seven scores on 203 carries so far this season for North Carolina A&T (1-8, 1-5). He’s averaging an impressive 115.8 yards per game.
“We need for all three phases to contribute and play together,” Taylor said. “It’s been up and down. The only thing that’s been consistent is defense, but from the offensive standpoint, and special teams, I thought we need to be more consistent.”
[Hampton’s loss against upstart ‘not a good advertisement for the MEAC.’]
FAMU can not afford to overlook its one-win opponent — not sitting one back from league frontrunner Bethune-Cookman (7-0, 5-0). A win over North Carolina A&T sets up a meaningful Nov. 20 showdown between these two Florida rivals — one that could decide the MEAC.
“The idea is at the end of the tunnel there is a lot still to be gathered,” Taylor said, during his weekly news conference. “To be in a position with the challenges we’ve had at the early part of the season in terms of injuries and senior laden teams, travel; all of that and we’re still in position to gain every goal that we had in place. That’s the motivation. That’s what keeps you focused. We’re keeping our eyes on the prize.”