MIAMI, Fla (famuathletics.com) — Florida A&M Football returned to the gridiron for the first time since 2019 but did not receive the outcome they hoped for as they lost to Jackson State 7-6 in the return of the Orange Blossom Classic.
"We didn't have the outcome we wanted. And that's on me as the head football coach," said head coach Willie Simmons. "We'll get better. We'll look at the film and make the corrections, but this is a championship team. I truly believe that. Again, you win some, lose some in life. But I think you learn a lot more in defeat than you do in victory a lot of times."
Florida A&M's defense lived up to the preseason hype as they held JSU to seven points and forced two turnovers.
"Defensively, I thought we played a phenomenal game. To hold that team to nine points, whatever it was, it shows the caliber that we have."
The Rattlers opened the game holding JSU to –6 yards on the first three plays of the game before they shanked the punt out of bounds giving Florida A&M excellent field position. The Rattlers would turn that field position into three points with a 21-yard field goal from Jose Romo-Martinez.
The next four possessions between FAMU and JSU resulted in back-to-back punts before JSU missed their opportunity to tie the game up. The Rattlers got the ball back, then JSU forced a three and out. The Tigers connected on a big 32-yard pass and picked up a 15-yard targeting penalty ejecting Nadarius Fagan from the game. The penalty put JSU down at the 2-yard line. JSU would take advantage of the penalty by capping off a ten-play, 69-yard drive with a 1-yard quarterback sneak to take a 7-3 lead.
Two drives later, the Rattlers defense came up with a critical turnover when Winsome Frazier sacked Shedeur Sanders to force the fumble and recovered it. The Rattlers took advantage of the turnover with a nine-play, 52-yard drive for Romo-Martinez to boot in a 39-yard field goal.
The Rattlers defense came up big again the following drive putting pressure on Sanders, forcing him into another fumble for the second straight drive. Justin Cooks recovered the fumble for the Rattlers.
Florida A&M executed their two-minute drill to put themselves in position for Romo-Martinez to attempt a 48-yard field goal. JSU's Anthony Petty broke free through the line to block the field goal to end the first half.
The Rattlers received the second half's opening kickoff and started to move the ball down the field before a Terrell Jenning fumble in the Tigers territory. Following the fumble from Jennings, the Tigers and Rattlers would exchange punts on six straight possessions.
On the first drive of the fourth quarter, head coach Willie Simmons decided to go in a different direction and entered true freshman quarterback Junior Muratovic. Muratovic came in and completed his first collegiate pass to Chad Hunter for 13-yards. A false start penalty put the Rattlers in a wrong spot, forcing them to punt, which Chris Faddoul pinned the Tigers inside their ten.
The Tigers opened the drive up with a false start and a run of no gain. The Rattlers bailed the Tigers out with pass interference on 2nd and long with the Tigers pinned inside their own five. The Tigers continued to drive the ball down the field before the Rattlers defense made a huge 4th and 1 stop.
Florida A&M's Muratovic made back-to-back plays finding Xavier Smith for a 6-yard gain and followed that with a 13-yard scramble to put the Rattlers close to midfield. Muratovic drove the Rattlers into Tigers territory, facing a 4th and 6 on JSU's 46 with three minutes left on the clock. Muratovic connected with Chad Hunter, but just a little short as the Rattlers turned it over on downs.
The Rattlers defense did what they needed to do to give the offense another opportunity to retake the lead. The Rattlers final drive started on their 39-yard line following a significant punt return from Xavier Smith. Muratovic drove the Rattlers to Jackson State's 38-yard line before being sacked on 4th and 10 for the Tigers to possess the ball and kneel.