ATLANTA, Ga. - Tennessee State University wants its football opponents to know that 2001 shouldn't be confused with 2000.
Yes, everyone knows the calendar has changed, but Saturday's 27-7 thrashing of the No. 9 Florida A&M Rattlers showed more than just the date was different since last year's 31-6 loss at the Georgia Dome. This year's Georgia Power Atlanta Football Classic may have served notice that the Tigers are determined to return to winning ways after a rocky 3-8 record in 2000.
The win before a record crowd of 64,100 gave TSU a 2-0 start under second-year skipper James Reese. It also provided a tune-up for the start of Ohio Valley Conference play as the Tigers play host to Southeast Missouri State this Saturday at Adelphia Coliseum (kickoff 1:30 p.m.).
"These guys have come out in practice everyday with a great attitude, the coaches have gotten them well prepared and they've come out and done what we wanted them to do," Reese said. "They played a good football team today, but they came out and got pressure on their quarterback and our offense was able to run on them. We thought those two things would be the keys to the game, and they were."
FAMU quarterback Quinn Gray was harassed early and often, throwing three interceptions before being lifted with 10:38 remaining in the game in favor of Lemuel Adams. The Tigers recorded four sacks, and kept the Rattlers well below their usual offensive output. Safety Marquis Stephens had five tackles (including one for a loss), a pass deflection and two blocked kicks in the win, and was named the OVC's Special Teams Player of the Week for his efforts.
TSU's running game was as good as it gets too. Freshman Charles Anthony rushed for 133 yards on 19 carries and scored once, earning Offensive Player of the Game honors. He stepped up when RB Marvin Jones, who logged 52 yards on 11 carries, went down with a hamstring pull near the end of the first half. Karon Key had 48 yards and one TD on seven touches, while quarterback Shannon Harris added 38 yards rushing to 152 yards and one TD through the air on a pass to Lamar Price that capped off the scoring.
Harris is currently the OVC's top statistical passer, and ranks 25th in all of Division I-AA. "We came to play today. We did what we needed to do. Now we've got to keep it going," he said.
The Tigers set the tempo when they took their second possession and went 97 yards on 11 plays for the game's first tally. Key ran it in from two yards out and the score was 7-0 TSU with 4:56 left in the first quarter.
A 32-yard Joey Hudak field goal at the 10:24 mark was the only scoring in the second quarter. It came off a five-play, 25-yard drive following a 45-yard Florida A&M field-goal attempt that was blocked by Stephens. A fumble by Key at the TSU 22 gave FAMU a late chance to score, but a stifling TSU defense extinguished the Rattlers' hopes as strong safety Mardae Weaver sacked Gray for a 10-yard loss on the last play of the half.
"I think that play did it," defensive end Orlando Dotson said. "They realized we weren't going to let up. We weren't going to let them beat us."
The opening drive of the second half showed the TSU offense would do the same as their defensive teammates. Anthony gained 59 yards during a seven-play, 76-yard drive that he finished with a 15-yard scamper to make it 17-0 with 11:48 left in the third quarter.
FAMU finally responded, going 73 yards in nine plays to score with 7:30 left in the third on a six-yard run by Kelsie Lordeus. "We shouldn't have let them have that," Dotson said. "We were all out of position on that play.
"We didn't make that mistake again, though."
TSU's offense continued to do their part as well, adding a 36-yard FG from Hudak and the six-yard scoring toss from Harris to Price for the final margin. FAMU finished with its lowest scoring total in a regular season game since 1996, and the fewest points in its rivalry with Tennessee State since a 12-0 shutout in 1985.
"We were just horrendous," said Florida A&M coach Billy Joe, who broke his 12-year streak of coaching games from the press box (including 88 straight in his eight seasons with the Rattlers) after headphone problems forced him to coach the game on the sideline.
It wouldn't have mattered where he was, however. His team got manhandled anyway.
"We knew coming in that we had it in us," center Benedict Ibisi said.
"We just had to play the way we were capable of playing."
"It was a total team effort," linebacker Walter Reese said. "We got in their face, and we never stopped. That's what we'll have to do each week."
The game with SEMO will be the conference opener for both schools. Southeast Missouri is 2-2 following a 38-33 win at Illinois State - their first ever there - last Saturday.
SOUTHERN HERITAGE REDUX
The Southern Heritage Classic between TSU and Jackson State has been rescheduled for Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 22) at 1 p.m. in the Liberty Bowl at Memphis. The game was originally planned for Sept. 15 but was cancelled following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.
TSU officials said this weekend that those already holding tickets for the event could use them on the make-up date. Those wishing to get a refund should present them at point of purchase by Sept. 30. New tickets for open seats to the rescheduled game will then go on sale Monday, Oct. 1.
People who purchased tickets with a credit card or on the Internet should make a copy of their tickets and then send the tickets to Ticketmaster, 1 Commerce Square, Suite 1300, Memphis TN, 38103. Those who purchased their tickets at the Tennessee State box office on the university's main campus should call 963-2286 and leave their name, address and telephone number as well as the number and dollar amount of the tickets purchased. A check will be processed for those buyers and be available for pickup at the TSU box office within 10 business days, according to university officials.
TSU vs. SE Missouri
Saturday, 1:30 p.m.