ATLANTA (AP) — Willie Simmons couldn't have been more surprised to see a flea-flicker trick play prove to be the difference for Florida A&M.
“I'll tell you, it never worked in practice,” said Simmons, the Rattlers coach.
Jeremy Moussa overcame a frustrating first half to throw three fourth-quarter touchdown passes, including a go-ahead, 38-yarder to Jah’Marae Sheread on the trick play, powering Florida A&M’s comeback past Howard 30-26 on Saturday in the Celebration Bowl.
Moussa's big fourth quarter included two scoring passes to Kelvin Dean Jr. The flea-flicker with 5:46 remaining provided the final margin of victory.
Simmons was reluctant to call the trick play until his players convinced him to make the call by saying “have faith in us.”
They executed it to perfection.
Moussa handed the ball to running back Terrell Jennings, who pitched the ball back to the quarterback for the decisive touchdown pass to Sheread.
“We had a couple plays there we were saving to use just at the right time,” Moussa said.
Added Simmons: “Thank God I didn’t go with my right mind.”
Florida A&M (12-1) closed the season with 11 consecutive wins. Moussa connected with Dean on scoring passes of 21 and 53 yards as the Rattlers recovered after trailing 14-0 in the first quarter and 16-10 to open the fourth.
Carson Hinton’s 26-yard pick-6 gave Howard (6-6) a 26-24 lead.
Linebacker Isaiah Major’s interception, the third thrown by Howard quarterback Quinton Williams, with 1:45 remaining clinched the win for Florida A&M.
“You can’t win many games when you turn the ball over three times,” Williams said. “That’s on me.”
Added Howard coach Larry Scott: “We kind of pride ourselves in not beating ourselves and we kind of did that.”
Jarrett Hunter and Kasey Hawthorne ran for touchdowns for the Bison.
The Bison led 16-10 early in the fourth quarter before Moussa led a 12-play, 83-yard touchdown drive. Moussa completed an 18-yard pass to tight end Kamari Young on a fourth-and-6 play before finding Dean open in the middle of the field for the 21-yard touchdown pass.
The Rattlers, coming off their first Southwestern Athletic Conference championship, gave the league only its second win over the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference in eight Celebration Bowl matchups. The game is considered by many to be the national championship game among Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
The Rattlers had two first-half touchdowns negated by penalties while Moussa was sacked for a safety. Moussa lost a fumble on another sack, forced by Christian White, to end Florida A&M's first possession. The turnover set up Hawthorne's 3-yard scoring run on a direct snap that gave Howard a 14-0 lead.
Howard led 16-10 at halftime.
“I told the team at halftime we played our worst half all season and we’re down by six,” Simmons said.
Vice president Kamala Harris wore a Howard shirt to represent her alma mater as she attended the game. Harris described herself as “a very proud Bison.” Harris said in an ABC interview she returns to Howard “every year for many years” for Homecoming.
BAKER LIKES THE SHOW
NCAA President Charlie Baker said he received an important tip when he made plans to attend the game. “Don't go anywhere at halftime,” Baker said, referring to the entertainment by the Howard and Florida A&M marching bands.
Howard: The Bison struggled on offense, managing only 187 total yards, including 81 on the ground. Williams completed 14 of 27 passes for 106 yards and three interceptions, including two in the final 5 minutes.
Florida A&M: Moussa, the SWAC offensive player of the year, needed four quarters to overcome a stingy Howard pass defense. The Bison ranked third in the nation in passing efficiency defense and led the nation with their average of 129.5 passing yards allowed per game. Moussa completed 19 of 32 passes for 289 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions.
Howard: Opens its 2024 season at Rutgers on Aug. 31.
Florida A&M: Returns to Atlanta to play Norfolk State on Aug. 24 at Georgia State's Center Parc Stadium in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge.
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