One of the most anticipated HBCU football season openers in recent years turned into a defensive struggle that ended with Jackson State making a fourth-down stop in the final seconds to secure a hard-fought 7-6 win over Florida A&M in the Orange Blossom Classic Sunday.
Making his first collegiate start, true freshman quarterback Shedeur Sanders went 18-of-24 for 221 yards and the game’s only touchdown, a 1-yard run to cap off a 10-play, 69-yard drive in the second quarter. The four-star recruit also accounted for two first-half fumbles but showed plenty of promise that made him the highest-ranked recruit to commit to the program.
The only points for the Rattlers came on its first offensive possession in the form of a first-quarter 21-yard field goal by kicker Jose Romo-Martinez to give the Rattlers their only lead of the game.
But the story of the new-look Jackson State outfit was its reimaged defense. Led by a host of FBS transfers, the unit held Florida A&M to 235 total yards, forced a pair of turnovers, and stopped the Rattlers on fourth down on its final two offensive drives, including a sack of backup quarterback Junior Muratovic by James Houston IV with 10 seconds left in the game.
Among the notable transfers who performed well in the season opener was made up of a quartet that included Nyles Gaddy, Antwan Owens, Aubrey Miller Jr. and Shilo Sanders. The group combined for 21 tackles and three tackles for loss against the Rattlers.
“We enjoyed ourselves today,” head coach Deion Sanders said after his second consecutive Week 1 win. “We prayed great defensively, offensively, we are really sporadic we got to do better inside the 40s. We will fix it and we will clean it up, but overall it was a great win. I’m a perfectionist, and it’s gone be hard to sleep tonight, but I rather sleep with a dub than sleep with an L.”
Junior Rasean McKay played the first three quarters for FAMU before Muratovic took over in the final quarter.
McKay finished 18-for-29 for 78 yards before he was pulled and Muratovic finished 5-for-11 for 47 yards during his first college outing.
“We did a lot of things that were uncharacteristic of this football team, said Florida A&M head coach Willie Simmons said. “I have to look at why we’re doing these things. We have to get back to the drawing board and make corrections. We’ll evaluate and see who gives us the best chance to win.”