SAVANNAH, Ga. – Savannah State head coach Earnest Wilson III, who earlier this week said SSU’s marching band is better than Florida A&M’s world-famous Marching 100, forgot to mention that his football team is better, too, this season.
SSU beat FAMU, 37-27, in a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference game Saturday night at T.A. Wright Stadium. A crowd of 4,679 celebrated throughout SSU’s home opener as the Tigers jumped out to a 30-7 halftime lead and held on to defeat the Rattlers for the first time in the series’ eight games.
“We’re Savannah State proud. We’re Savannah State bold,” said Wilson, who was doused with a bucket of ice water by his jubilant players after the game. “I know that Florida A&M has a great tradition but we’ve got a new band director. He’s trying to build a tradition here at Savannah State, too, so we’re going to be proud. And I love their energy. They give me energy.”
It was Wilson’s second win in three seasons at SSU. It also was a signature win against a FAMU program that has won 12 national championships, including the first Football Championship Subdivision national championship in 1978.
SSU (1-3, 1-1 MEAC) snapped a 24-game overall losing streak and a 32-game conference losing streak. The Tigers’ previous victory was a 27-20 decision against NCAA Division II Fort Valley State on Sept. 14, 2013. SSU previously had not won a conference game since 2011, when the Tigers beat North Carolina Central, 33-30, in SSU’s first official season in the MEAC.
Florida A&M (0-5, 0-2) has lost to SSU, Tennessee State, South Carolina State, Samford and South Florida.
SSU took a 3-0 lead on John Barron’s 22-yard field goal with 12:41 left in the first quarter. The Tigers made it 10-0 when Arshon Spaulding, who started his second game at quarterback, ran for a 15-yard touchdown and Barron kicked the extra point with 3:57 left in the first quarter. Spaulding’s touchdown capped a 13-play, 83-yard drive that consumed 6:22 off the game clock.
“I felt a lot more comfortable,” Spaulding said of his second game at quarterback. “I give all the credit to my offensive line. They did a heck of a job.”
Spaulding finished 6-of-8 passing for 73 yards without an interception. He ran 14 times for 80 yards.
FAMU cut it to 10-7 after Kenneth Coleman connected with Jairockei Jones for a 28-yard touchdown and Colby Blanton kicked the extra point with 1:24 left in the first quarter. Coleman finished 8-of-12 passing for a game-high 129 yards.
SSU’s Ker-Sean Wilson returned the ensuing kickoff for an 88-yard touchdown, the fourth-longest in school history. Steven Hagan’s run for the two-point conversion failed and the Tigers settled for a 16-7 lead with 1:10 remaining before halftime.
“The minute I got the ball, I saw that my front 10 (teammates) just had the blocks,” Ker-Sean Wilson said. “My safety valve made a good block out on the edge and I saw nothing but daylight, and I just hit it. I believe I was on their 40 when I realized I was going to take it all the way.”
In the second quarter, SSU went ahead 23-7 on Nicholas Bentley’s 13-yard touchdown run, capping a 10-play, 64-yard drive. The Tigers made it 30-7 when Bentley ran for a 6-yard touchdown with 4:04 left before halftime.
“We couldn’t come out (in the second half) and let them get back into the game, which we did a little bit,” said linebacker Marquis Smith, who made a team-high 10 tackles. “But we had to bear down and handle business. It’s a big win. It makes a statement. I want to enjoy this victory first but we’ll be ready to get back to work on Sunday.”
FAMU cut it to 30-10 on Blanton’s 20-yard field goal with 9:58 left in the third quarter. The Rattlers followed up with a 2-yard touchdown run by Devondrick Nealy, trimming it to 30-17 with 5:51 to play in the third quarter.
After SSU punted, FAMU began a drive at its own 16-yard line with 3:50 left in the third quarter. Coleman’s pass was incomplete and on second down he fumbled after being hit by SSU left end Connor Christian. Right end Edward Goubadia recovered the ball at FAMU’s 20-yard line and ran it to the Rattlers’ 17.
Two plays later, SSU’s Joshua Berry ran untouched for a 17-yard touchdown, giving the Tigers a 37-17 lead with 3:30 left in the third quarter. Berry finished with a game-high 83 yards on 13 carries. Bentley finished with 43 yards on six carries.
“It was big. It was really big,” Earnest Wilson said of Goubadia’s fumble recovery and Berry’s touchdown run. “It gave us a cushion. I thought if we got to 37 (points) we could win. I know that I’ve got a young team and they’re going to make those freshman mistakes.”
FAMU’s Blanton kicked a 24-yard field goal, cutting it to 37-20 with 16 seconds left in the third quarter.
In the fourth quarter, FAMU cut it to 37-27 on Tysean Holloway’s 3-yard touchdown run with 7 minutes left in the game.
SSU punted and FAMU began its final drive with 4:34 left in the game. On fourth-and-6 from SSU’s 40-yard line, the eighth play of the Rattlers’ drive, SSU’s Smith and right end Stefen Banks combined to sack backup quarterback Carson Royal for a 10-yard loss at the 50-yard line. With the victory sealed, several SSU defensive players danced on the field after the sack.
As time expired on the game clock, SSU players sprinted off the sideline. Some raised their helmets in the air. Others hugged and jumped up and down in celebration.
SSU’s next game is Saturday against Morgan State in Baltimore, Md. Kickoff is at 4 p.m.
“That’s what I needed,” Earnest Wilson said of beating FAMU. “I needed that to keep going as a coach, to keep our morale up. It’s going to be tough to beat Morgan next week but I think we can do it if we just continue to improve.”
Courtesy: SSU Athletics