N.C. Central University football’s journey to recapture the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championship started with an unsuccessful battle against the Florida A&M Rattlers at O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 29.
Coming off another major 55-13 loss to the Duke Blue Devils last weekend, Eagles football had looked to recover with a win of their own against their conference foe.
It originally looked promising: with NCCU offense on the field first, redshirt junior quarterback Naiil Ramadan lead the offensive unit down the field with ease against the Rattlers. Despite injuries to both starting ball carriers, redshirt sophomore running back Jordan Freeman was able to pick up the slack and score the game’s first touchdown on a dump screen pass from Ramadan.
FAMU’s own offense responded by fighting back with a quick 2-play drive resulting in a 43-yard connection between Rattlers quarterback Ryan Stanley and receiver Marcus Williams. However, it was connections between Stanley and another reciver, Chad Hunter, that was the driving force of FAMU offence with the two of them accounting for 3 touchdowns in the first half alone.
NCCU’s failure to move the chains with a forced fourth-down punt set the stage for the Rattlers to take control when the punt was blocked by a FAMU defender who completed a scoop and score touchdown to make the score at halftime 24-7.
After the break, the high-powered Rattlers offense continued to have its way with Eagles defense. Each of their scoring drives took no more than 10 plays to produce.
In an effort to find some kind of spark, NCCU sent sophomore quarterback Chauncey Caldwell into the game in the third quarter, but even he failed to complete a pass. A second switch-up was made to redshirt freshman Dominique Shoffner, whose first time on the field for the Eagles was only just last week at Wallace Wade Stadium.
Shoffner’s back-to-back completions brought the home crowd to its feet as Eagles football finally began moving the ball downfield.
NCCU’s Freeman got his number called again, stumbling and breaking free of multiple FAMU defenders with a big run that set his team up in goal line position before finishing that drive with a 1-yard cruise into the end zone.
In a last-minute attempt to make the game more respectable, Shoffner ran just short of the first down. That still wasn’t enough—the Rattlers got the ball anyway and set up their victory formation for a final score of 55–14 FAMU.
In the end, FAMU’s passing was unmatched with 254 yards and 509 yards total compared to NCCU’s total 280.
Despite both being the third men off the bench, Shoffner and Freeman excelled when called upon by their team. Shoffner finished the game with an impressive 98 yards and went 10 for 17 in pass completion. Freeman finished the game with 77 rushing yards and accounted for the team’s two touchdowns.
The Eagles look to learn from their mistakes and fight through their tough conference schedule with their next challenge hosting the Howard University Bison (1-0 MEAC, 1-2 overall) on Saturday, Oct. 6 at 2 p.m.