TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Norfolk State defensive lineman George Riddick stopped Florida A&M quarterback Damien Fleming for no gain on 3rd-and-goal from the 1 in the closing seconds, and the Rattlers were unable to get off another play before the final horn as the Spartans escaped Bragg Memorial Stadium with a 12-10 win on Saturday afternoon.
The Spartans came up with three key momentum-changing plays in the game, including one goal-line stand in each half. The result was a victory that keeps NSU (4-5 overall, 4-1 MEAC) tied for first place in the MEAC heading into Thursday’s ESPNU-televised game with Bethune-Cookman at Dick Price Stadium in Norfolk.
With NSU trailing 10-6, linebacker Deon King forced and recovered a Rattler fumble at the FAMU 5 with 7:22 left. Three plays later, backup quarterback Malik Stokes hit Isaac White for an 8-yard, go-ahead touchdown pass with 6:20 remaining in the game. The extra point missed, so NSU led 12-10.
After a short kickoff and 22-yard kickoff return by Devonte Johnson, the Rattlers (2-7, 2-3) took over the ensuing drive at their 45. Fleming completed passes on 4th-and-3 and 3rd-and-15 to keep the FAMU hopes alive. The Rattlers, who were out of timeouts, had a 1st-and-goal at the NSU 6 after a 13-yard Fleming scramble in the final 90 seconds. He rushed for 1 yard on first down and Gerald Hearns rushed for 4 on second down, taking the ball to the NSU 1 with under 30 seconds left.
FAMU kicker Chase Varnadore appeared ready to run onto the field for an attempt at a winning field goal, but the Rattler offense stayed on the field instead. Fleming tried to sneak it in on 3rd-and-goal, but was met for no gain by Riddick. FAMU was unable to get off another play before the clock expired.
NSU controlled much of the first half, but held just a 6-0 lead at the break. NSU took its second possession of the game and drove 83 yards for the game’s first points. Cameron Marouf capped the 10-play drive with a 26-yard field goal. The march included a 56-yard run by Aaron Daniels, the longest of his career and of the season for the Spartans.
The Spartan defense came up with the biggest play of the second quarter. FAMU put together a 14-play drive that reached the NSU 2-yard line after a pass interference call on the Spartans. NSU stuffed three consecutive FAMU runs. Then on 4th-and-goal from the Spartans’ 1, Fleming faked a handoff and rolled right, but NSU had his receivers covered. Fleming was dropped for a 14-yard sack by NSU safety Brandon Walker, turning the ball over to NSU on downs with 8:21 left before halftime.
The Spartans took advantage, using every last second of the second quarter to extend its lead. Marouf finished off a 15-play, 56-yard drive with a 47-yard field goal on the last play of the half to give NSU a 6-0 advantage.
FAMU took its first lead on Fleming’s 11-yard TD pass to Montavius Williams, capping a 12-play, 80-yard drive. Varnadore’s PAT gave the Rattlers a 7-6 edge with 2:16 remaining in the third quarter.
Varnadore tacked on a 42-yard field goal with 11:38 left in the game to extend the Rattler lead to 10-6.
The Spartans appeared to be on the ropes at that point. They lost their starting quarterback, Terrance Ervin, after a big hit and sack by Shaun Ward on the ensuing drive and ended up punting. But Spartan punter Dylan Shaddix pinned FAMU at its own 3. On the first play of the following possession, King stripped Tysean Holloway and recovered the fumble at the Rattlers’ 5. That set the stage for Stokes’ TD pass to White – his third TD grab in the last two games.
FAMU outgained the Spartans 292-194. Daniels had 79 rushing yards to lead NSU. White made four grabs for 37 yards.
Fleming completed 19-of-27 passes for 181 yards and a TD and also rushed for 30 yards in a losing effort.
Walker had nine tackles, two for loss, and one sack to lead the Spartan defense. King and Lamar Neal had eight tackles apiece. King added one tackle for loss, half a sack, and the forced and recovered fumble. Lynden Trail added seven tackles and two quarterback hurries.
NSU returns home for its next two games, starting with the ESPNU matchup with the defending MEAC co-champion Wildcats of Bethune-Cookman at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.