MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Marcus Riley returned the game’s opening kickoff 96 yards for a score, Jeremy Moussa threw two touchdown passes, and Florida A&M beat Jackson State 28-10 on Sunday in the Orange Blossom Classic.
Moussa, who is the Southwestern Athletic Conference’s Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, completed 11 of 21 passes for 146 yards. He had touchdown throws of 18 and 5 yards.
“It meant a lot to come home and beat Jackson State,” Riley said. “(Those) boys have been riding high for the past two seasons. They’ve been the Alabama of the HBCUs. We had to calm them down a little bit.”
The Rattlers scored at will in the first half before being held scoreless in the final two quarters.
Jaquez Yant had a 3-yard touchdown run in the second quarter that gave the Rattlers a 28-point halftime lead.
Jah’Marae Sheread, who caught a touchdown pass in the first quarter, had 95 of the Rattlers’ 225 yards on special teams.
“The first game is always tricky,” said Florida A&M coach Willie Simmons. “We’ve been practicing against each other for a month in scrimmages. You never know how you’re going to respond until you actually get in a game.
“I think the opening kickoff really calmed our team down. I’ve been doing this for 19 years. I don’t think I’ve ever run the opening kickoff in for a touchdown. It’s a great feeling and really got our guys in a position where we took over the game in the first half.”
Jackson State punted on 5 of 7 first-half drives and lost three fumbles in their second game under head coach T.C. Taylor, who replaced Deion Sanders after he took the coaching job at Colorado.
“We got our butts kicked today,” Taylor said. “We came out flat in the first half. I’ve got to do a better job of getting this football team ready to play.”
Jason Brown completed 10 of 19 passes for 82 yards before he was replaced by Zy McDonald at the start of the third quarter.
In a four-touchdown hole, Jackson State held the Rattlers scoreless in the second half and blocked a 39-yard field-goal attempt by Cameron Gillis in the fourth to stay within striking distance.
McDonald led Jackson State on a 17-play, 71-yard scoring drive in the third quarter that included two fourth-down conversions and ended in a 24-yard field goal that made it 28-3.
On the Tigers’ next drive, McDonald connected with receiver Rico Powers for a 66-yard touchdown to complete the scoring.
McDonald finished 10-of-14 passing for 149 yards.
Entering Sunday’s game, the Rattlers hadn’t scored a TD against the Tigers in their previous two meetings. Led by Sanders, Jackson State outscored Florida A&M 66-9 in the past two Orange Blossom Classics.
Jackson State: Despite a successful opener in last week’s 37-7 win over South Carolina State, it’s clear the Tigers are still gelling after so much roster turnover from last year’s team. They showed that they’re able to put together a complete game. They just couldn’t replicate it against the Rattlers.
Florida A&M: The Rattlers were successful in all three phases in their first game of the season and showed why they were picked to finish first in the SWAC’s East Division.
Jackson State: At Southern University on Sept. 9.
Florida A&M: At South Florida on Sept. 9.
Cover Photo: Florida A&M wide receiver Trevonte Davis (13) scores a touchdown in front of Jackson State cornerback Jalin Hughes, left, during the first half of the Orange Blossom Classic NCAA college football game, Sunday, Sept. 3, 2023, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)