NORFOLK, Va. -- Philip Sylvester ran 23 times for 130 yards and scored the winning touchdown on a 10-yard run with 6:21 left in the game to lift Florida A&M to a 17-13 victory over Norfolk State on Saturday afternoon at Dick Price Stadium.
Sylvester's TD capped a 13-play, 98-yard drive that proved to be the difference, sending the Spartans (2-5, 1-4 MEAC) to their fourth straight loss in front of a homecoming crowd of 21,118, a season high.
Turnovers played a key role in the first half, which ended with a 10-10 deadlock. NSU kick returner Dwight Fluker-Berry (Miami, Fla.) fumbled the opening kickoff, and FAMU's DeAndre Mitchell recovered at the Spartan 11. The Spartan defense stood tall, with FAMU settling for a 28-yard Trevor Scott field goal to take a 3-0 lead just 1:51 into the contest.
After an NSU punt, the Rattlers drove into Spartan territory trying to add to their lead. But Martin Ukpai's pass was intercepted by Dante Barnes (Virginia Beach, Va.), who returned it 68 yards for an NSU touchdown with 5:54 remaining in the first quarter.
The Spartan defense came up with another takeaway on their half of the field in the second quarter. Ukpai fumbled a handoff attempt, and Spartan linebacker Hasan Craig (Rocky Mountain, Va.) recovered at the NSU 38. Ten plays later, Ryan Estep (Chesapeake, Va.) drilled a 41-yard field goal with 7:07 left in the second quarter, stretching NSU's lead to 10-3.
But FAMU tied the score just before half. Ukpai helped engineer a seven-play, 85-yard drive, which he capped with a 1-yard TD run just 17 seconds before halftime. Scott's extra point tied the game at 10-all. The scoring march was aided by a 39-yard reverse pass from Antonio Lawrence to Kevin Elliott.
The Spartans regained the lead on their second possession of the second half. Estep kicked a 26-yard field goal to cap an 11-play, 31-yard drive.
With its defense playing stout, NSU pinned FAMU at the 2-yard line after a 39-yard Troy Muenzer (Long Beach, Calif.) punt early in the fourth. But the Rattlers marched 98 yards in 13 plays for what proved to be the winning score. Sylvester ripped off a 36-yard run on the first play of the possession, and Ukpai completed 4 of 6 passes on the drive, all for first downs. That included a key 8-yard pass to Patrick Davis on 4th-and-3 from the Spartan 33 to keep the drive alive.
The Spartans moved the ball 60 yards in 14 plays on their final drive. But with all his receivers covered, NSU quarterback Chris Walley (Tallahassee, Fla.) was stopped after a 2-yard scramble on 4th-and-6, wrapping up the win for the Rattlers.
The Spartans outgained FAMU 346-307, but couldn't find the end zone on offense. Walley completed 11 of 16 passes for 140 yards and ran for a season-high 62 on 11 carries. DeAngelo Branche (Norfolk, Va.) led NSU with 89 yards on 26 carries, and in the process became just the second player in NSU history to top the 3,000-yard mark for his career. He now has 3,047 career yards.
Sophomore receiver Reggie Garrett (Chesapeake, Va.), making his first career start, had a game-high four receptions for 65 yards.
NSU will look to end its losing skid next Saturday at Howard University. Kickoff is at 1 p.m. from Greene Stadium.
Florida A&M beats Norfolk State 17-13 on late TD
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