TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – For the second straight season, North Carolina A&T versus Florida A&M in football came down to the last play.
For the second straight season, the FAMU Rattlers came out on top. The Rattlers handed the Aggies their first loss in conference play in six games with a 34-31 overtime win at Bragg Memorial Stadium Sunday afternoon.
Backup Rattlers quarterback Rasean McKay connected with Marcus Williams for the game-winning touchdown pass. The loss drops the Aggies, the No. 10 team in the nation, to 4-2 overall and 2-1 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC).
Florida A&M (6-1, 4-0 MEAC) is in a first-place tie in the conference with Bethune-Cookman (4-0) but they are ineligible for postseason play. N.C. A&T is in a tie with S.C. State in the standings and behind Bethune-Cookman for first place as teams continue to jockey for a spot in the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl on Dec. 21 at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“There were several lessons to be learned today. The one thing I am very proud of is the kids did not quit. They fought to the end,” said N.C. A&T coach Sam Washington. “We’ve got to go back to the drawing board and do the little things right. If we work together as a football team, I think we’ll be all right.”
Washington said he was disappointed in having three of his players ejected from the ballgame because of a halftime scuffle that ensued as the two teams headed to their respective locker rooms. FAMU also had three players ejected along with a coach. Every player and coach from both teams were given unsportsmanlike conduct penalties at halftime.
Two of the players disqualified for the Aggies were All-MEAC performers Elijah Bell (WR) and Mac McCain III (CB). Special teams standout Stephen Davis Jr. was also disqualified for unsportsmanlike conduct. The three Rattlers ejected from the game were Timothy Williams, Andrew Davis and Jalen Brayboy along with defensive coordinator Ralph Street.
Washington said as far as his players are concerned, it was a lack of self-control. “That cannot happen,” he added.
The adrenaline was high from the beginning as both teams came into the game undefeated in the MEAC. By the end of the game, in addition to Bell and McCain not in the game, the Aggies were also without starting quarterback Kylil Carter who kept cramping. That put the offense in the hands of redshirt sophomore quarterback Jalen Fowler with 10 minutes remaining in the game and the Aggies trailing 28-25.
Fowler and the offense took over possession at
Fowler’s 7-yard completion to Leslie gave the Aggies a 1st-and-goal at the FAMU 7 with seven seconds remaining. It appeared Leslie got out of bounds, but he was ruled inbounds after his forward progress was stopped forcing the Aggies to call their final timeout. After a failed pass to the end zone by Fowler, the Aggies brought on junior placekicker Noel Ruiz to tie and send the game into overtime.
Ruiz, who kicked a game-winning 52-yard field goal at the buzzer earlier this season against Elon, booted the game-tying 24-yard field goal through the uprights as time expired on Sunday to send the game into overtime tied at 28.
FAMU won the toss in overtime and decided to play defense first. N.C. A&T took over at the FAMU 25. Their drive stalled at the FAMU 18 giving Ruiz another opportunity. Ruiz came through again. This time his kick cleared the uprights from 32 yards out to give the Aggies a 31-28 lead.
Ruiz’s field goal did leave the door open for FAMU to win the game on a touchdown because the Rattles had not yet possessed the ball in overtime. On 3rd-and-7 from the Aggies 22, that’s exactly what happened. FAMU, who was also playing with its backup quarterback in McKay, had McKay roll out to the right and toss an underthrown pass toward the end zone.
Williams ran under the pass landing on top of it just inside the front pylon in the end zone for the touchdown. Initially, there was a flag on the play for offensive pass interference. The flag was picked up. Once the touchdown was confirmed on replay, the Rattlers had the upset win.
“That was the first time since 1986 when I started coaching this game, that I have seen an offensive pass interference flag picked up,” said Washington. “I thought we shouldn’t have put ourselves in the position we did. But we did. I thought the kids fought to dig themselves out of a hole.”
FAMU and N.C. A&T played like the top two teams in the MEAC early. The two teams traded big punches from the beginning. FAMU scored first by using the top QB-receiver combination in the MEAC statistically as quarterback Ryan Stanley connected with Xavier Smith on a 56-yard touchdown pass.
The Aggies answered with a 16-play, 72-yard drive that ended with a 1-yard Carter touchdown to tie the game. Thanks to a long kickoff return, the Rattlers struck again with a 5-yard touchdown pass from Stanley to David Manigo.
One of the best runners in the nation, Aggies junior Jah-Maine Martin tied the game at 14 with a 9-yard touchdown run, his 12thof the season. The Rattlers took a 21-14 lead into the locker room thanks to a halfback pass from Azende Rey to Williams.
“I thought we were flat early,” said Washington. “We weren’t playing our brand of football. We were playing off too much (in pass coverage). We were giving too much cushion. It was a soft cushion at that. That had a lot to do with their success early. We tightened down the screws and put a little more pressure on (Stanley) and that turned things around.”
The Aggies were never able to take the lead on Sunday. A 26-yard Ruiz field goal cut the Rattlers lead to 21-17 in the third quarter. Terrel Jennings gave the Rattlers a 28-17 lead at the start of the fourth quarter before senior running back Kashon Baker scored from 36-yards. Fowler found Leslie in the corner of the end zone for the 2-point conversion to get the Aggies to within three, 28-25 with 10:27 remaining in the game.
Before leaving the game, Carter completed 21 of 31 passes for a career-high 251 yards passing. Carter also had 63 yards and a touchdown on nine carries. He threw his first interception in 237 passes, unfortunately. Leslie had a career day with a career-high in receptions (11) and receiving yards (136). Senior Antoine Wilder had nine tackles.