Bring on the cynicism. I don’t care.
No really, I don’t give a damn if you think pointing out Florida A&M’s day’s success at North Carolina (yes, the Chapel Hill version, not the A&T or Central kind from the old MEAC days).
The Rattlers are one of the top HBCU programs in America, and who knows? This year, this program may be the best HBCU program. We’ll see.
Coming into this game at UNC (6-7 last year with a bowl-game loss to South Carolina), things looked like an uphill challenge. Clearly, FAMU’s defensive stud Isaiah Land — last year’s FCS/Defensive Player of the Year — is a talent. Ask the NFL.
But we found out about 24-48 hours ago that 20+ FAMU players weren’t going to be available, with academic and transfer issues being the reason.
Yet the Rattlers were down 35-24 coming into the fourth quarter. Who are we kidding, honest folks? This game probably should have been a three-touchdown game by the end of the first quarter, but it was an 11-point game going into the final period.
Did anybody think FAMU would win this? Either with a full roster or not? Absolutely not.
Did anybody think a depleted FAMU roster would make UNC nervous going into the fourth quarter? No way. The Tar Heels pulled away in the fourth, like it happens in 95 percent of FCS games against Power Five conference teams — but it was hardly a foregone conclusion.
Listen — I hate participation trophies as much as any of you. And yes, I hate moral/pyrrhic victories as much as you do. But if you view a season as a “big picture” situation instead of getting stuck like a truck in muck over minor details (I.E. — an FBS game where you’re supposed to lose and take a fat check home?) … well,
Florida A&M may have handled this game as well as any tough situation I’ve seen in eight (honestly more) seasons of covering this level.
Since my days with what was once our original HERO Sports platform, I’ve been yappin’ (I admit it) that Willie Simmons at FAMU (once won a lot of games at Prairie View) is special. Why do I say this? Because I remember typing his name back in the late 1990s as a badass quarterback at Quincy Shanks HS (closed for 20 years now), I know his high school head coach, and first met Willie one summer when he was home as a young 20-something after he’d started at QB for Tommy Bowden at Clemson.
Everybody you talked to who knew Willie Simmons said the guy was special — again, 20 years ago. I remember that well. So why would it shock you that Willie led a typically moribund PVA&M to 8 wins in a season? And that he’d make FAMU relevant again?
Again, I don’t care about people saying “UNC scored 50+ …. blah blah blah”. For three quarters? A FAMU team with one hand (or three?) tied behind its back gave a 2021 ACC bowl team fits led by a legendary coach like Mack Brown, with Auburn’s national title coach Gene Chizik as an assistant and FCS stud play-caller Phil Longo on staff … and Willie didn’t allow UNC to avoid sweat in the second half.
Folks, that’s a victory. Sometimes “victories” don’t come in a perfectly wrapped Amazon.com package. FAMU won on Saturday — and now the real work starts. Next weekend’s game is the only game they have a realistic chance of losing — with SWAC champ Jackson State. But last year’s game was a one-point affair (loss). Think the Rattlers have forgotten?
Missing 20 players and the nation’s top defensive star, FAMU gave UNC fits for three quarters. How do you think that translates to the SWAC regular season? I think we all know.
To wrap? At one point in the fourth quarter when North Carolina finally pulled away, one of UNC’s “five-star” recruits got a big play against FAMU.
I couldn’t help think — when did an FCS team sign a five-star prospect out of high school? I think FCS fans know the answer. I’m sure the FAMU players know the answer.
AUSTIN PEAY CONTINUES TO CHALLENGE: Our Jeff Scoggins at Gridirion Heroics notes that Austin Peay played a bowl-winning Western Kentucky team to a tight result — a one-position game going into the final four minutes of the game.
More about APSU and its continued improvement since ending its 29-game losing streak earlier in 2017:
APSU VS WESTERN KENTUCKY (LINK): Austin Peay Continues To Scare FBS Teams
Stephen F. Austins’ Charles Demmings breaks away Saturday at the FCS Kickoff Classic (Photo by FCS Kickoff Classic)
FCS PRESEASON CLASSIC:
Jacksonville State needed a 21-point third quarter to pull away from ever-improving Stephen F. Austin. JSU is transitioning to the world of FBS. Zion Webb — a talented quarterback at JSU for years — led the Gamecocks to the win.
In 2019 we put Xavier Gipson on the HERO Sports freshman all-american team — and Xavier hasn’t slowed down since. He broke the school record for receiving yards on Saturday — and he has a full senior season ahead of him. Gibson caught six passes for 68 yards for a score, and his QB Trae Self threw for 135 yards and 2 TDs.
Defensively, Tkai Lloyd led the Lumberjacks with 11 tackles and forced a fumble.
THE MEAC-SWAC CHALLENGE:
The Cricket MEAC/SWAC Challenge Kickoff in Atlanta is in delay as of 1 a.m. ET on Sunday morning, with several minutes remaining and Howard driving. Alabama State was leading 23-13 before the delay.
THE REST OF THE BEST: Mercer — a rising FCS program and a SoCon title threat in 2022 — opened its year with a 63-13 win over non-scholarship Pioneer League program Morehead State. The Bears finished with 625 total yards of offense, and travel to a downtrodden Auburn program next week … Florida State jumped out quickly to take a 47-7 win over the NEC’s Duquesne …UNLV defeated Idaho State 52-21
BMAC’S BIG FIVE PERFORMERS:
TY JAMES, MERCER, SOPH./WR — 5 receptions, 192 yards, 3 TDs vs. Morehead State
ANTOINE WILLIAMS, AUSTIN PEAY, SOPH./LB — 14 tackles, 1 pass defensed
D.J. HAGLER, IDAHO STATE, SR./LB — 8 tackles, 1.5 TFLs
JEREMY MOUSSA, FAMU, SR./QB — 279 passing yds, 2 TDs
DRAE MCCRAY, AUSTIN PEAY, SOPH./WR — 6 receptions, 90 yards, 2 TDs
Also, from Monday, Aug. 22 until our FCS overall preview finale, Gridiron Heroics’ team of eight (yes, eight) FCS reporters break down the 15 conferences that make up the awesome, special level that is — the FCS. Check out the previews with the links below, conference by conference:
THE REST OF THE BEST FCS CONFERENCES IN AMERICA (click on links below)
OVERALL FCS PREVIEW: Overall FCS Preview
MONDAY, AUG. 22: ASUN-WAC & Big Sky
TUESDAY, AUG. 23: Big South, CAA, MVFC
WEDNESDAY, AUG. 24: OVC, Patriot
THURSDAY, AUG. 25: Pioneer, Southland
MONDAY, AUG. 29: HBCU DAY – MEAC & SWAC
TUESDAY, AUG. 30: NEC, SoCon
MONDAY, SEPT. 13: Ivy League (1st game Sept. 16)
RELATED STORY: The Top 30 for 30 Shows in College Football — We Rank Them
BMAC AND THE NACH PODCAST (Aug. 23 episode at top)
FCS NUTS AND BOLTS: All of the key facts for the 2022 FCS season
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