Shorthanded Rattlers bring the heat to Chapel Hill, ultimately fall to UNC 56-24

FAMU's Marching 100 perform ahead of FAMU Football's matchup with North Carolina
FAMU's Marching 100 perform ahead of FAMU Football's matchup with North Carolina(Dominic Miranda | WCTV)
Published: Aug. 28, 2022 at 4:45 AM EDT
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CHAPEL HILL, NC. (WCTV) - Twenty-Four hours before Florida A&M Football would be playing North Carolina, the Rattlers were informed of eligibility issues within their team.

Twenty players were deemed ineligible due to academic reasons or transfer eligibility reasons. This included Buck Buchanan Award winner and SWAC preseason Player of the Year Isaiah Land, SWAC preseason first team defensive back BJ Bohler, and starting offensive lineman Cameron Covin.

Understandably, this would be enough to potentially shake a team’s confidence. However, FAMU isn’t an ordinary team, and Willie Simmons isn’t an ordinary coach. The shorthanded Rattlers made the trip to Chapel Hill, and they without question brought the heat. The first time ever the two programs have met on the gridiron.

The Tar Heels got the ball rolling in the first quarter. Redshirt Freshman quarterback Drake Maye connected with Kamari Morales for a 19 yard pitch and catch for a touchdown. UNC took a 7-0 lead with 5 minutes to go in the first quarter.

FAMU answered right back. Jeremy Moussa getting the start for the Rattlers at quarterback, and he was absolutely ready for the moment.

Just three minutes after UNC’s score, Moussa had a pair of excellent throws culminating in a 17 yard touchdown throw to AJ Davis to even up the score at 7 a piece.

Back and forth we went at Kenan Stadium as it took the Tar Heels just 3 minutes to respond again. Drake Maye hitting yet another tight end for a score. This time, Bryson Nesbit the beneficiary of a 23 yard touchdown throw from Maye. UNC took a 14-7 lead into the 2nd quarter over FAMU.

The Tar Heels built on that lead with 7 minutes to play in the 2nd quarter. On 4th and goal from FAMU’s 4 yard line, Drake Maye connected with Gavin Blackwell for a 4 yard touchdown--his third already of the game. UNC took a 21-7 lead.

However, it was FAMU’s resilience that was so remarkable in this game. The Rattlers responded with a 12 play, 75 yard march down the field culminating in a Jaylen McCloud 5 yard touchdown run cutting the deficit to 21-14 in favor of UNC.

FAMU forced the Tar Heels to punt right before the half, and had the opportunity to tie the game before heading into the locker room. However, this is where the momentum shifted dramatically in UNC’s favor.

Jeremy Moussa, who otherwise had a sensational game, threw an interception in FAMU territory to UNC’s Storm Duck. Duck returned the INT deep into FAMU territory. A couple plays later, Maye hit Josh Downs for a 2 yard touchdown. His fourth touchdown of the day putting the Tar Heels on top 28-14 heading into halftime.

The Rattlers would get as close as 11 in this game. After Jose Romo-Martinez knocked in a 35 yard field goal, the Rattlers had the ball again. Jeremy Moussa threw an absolutely beautiful touchdown pass 22 yards to Trevonte Davis. That would narrow the gap to a 35-24 lead for UNC. Unfortunately, that is as close as the score would get in this one.

A valiant and extremely impressive effort from FAMU after a tumultuous 48 hours for the program. On a night in which the Rattlers were without 20 players, many of whom were star players on this team, FAMU scored the most points against a power five opponent it has ever scored. The previous record was 17 points against Miami in 2002.

Jeremy Moussa went 28-38 for 279 yards and two touchdowns in his debut as starting quarterback.

Willie Simmons was beaming with pride after the game.

“The message was when those guys decided to play mid-day on Friday and that they wanted to make this trip--the message was, ‘Hey, we’re here. We wanted this game, so let’s go play’,” Simmons said, “I can’t reiterate enough how proud I am of these guys for everything they’ve had to endure over the last 48 hours. I don’t know that I’ve ever been around many teams that could respond the way these guys have. Again, I’m just overwhelmed with love for this group and I’m honored to be their leader.”

FAMU begins its 2022 campaign 0-1. The Rattlers head to Miami next week to face off with SWAC foe Jackson State in the Orange Blossom Classic at Hard Rock Stadium.