100 Moments: Tigers Skin the Rattlers
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
100 Moments: Tigers Skin the Rattlers

The 100 Moments of TSU Athletics presented by Taco Bell® series continues by remembering a classic game from the Tennessee State-Florida A&M rivalry.

In 1978, TSU limped into the game versus FAMU with a 3-3 record, and had just lost the previous week to Grambling State 11-19. Conversely, the Rattlers of Florida A&M sported a perfect 6-0 record and a 17-game winning streak dating back to last season.

However, records didn't matter when the two teams met on a Saturday in Oct. TSU came into the game with a chip on its shoulder, and left the game with a 24-21 upset victory.

That year, the Tigers were led by four All-Americans including receiver John Smith, quarterback Joe Adams, guard Jimmy Carter and defensive end Maurice Fitzgerald.

The duo of Adams and Smith proved too much for FAMU to handle as the game became just another stepping stone on the path to two record-breaking seasons.

For Adams, his 2,328 passing yards in 1978 broke Joe Gilliam's record of 2,116 yards set in 1971. Adams also threw for 13 scores and completed 55 percent of his passes that year.

Adams's main target was Smith, who set a TSU record in receiving yards with 770. This broke John Holland's record of 739 yards. Smith caught 45 passes for the year, but McDonald Oden also caught 40 balls for four touchdowns for TSU.

Fitzgerald was an integral part of a Big Blue defense that recorded 31 sacks and intercepted 14 passes. Bruce Walker led the Tigers with six sacks, and Fitzgerald was third on the team in both tackles and sacks registering 3 and 31, respectively.

For TSU, the narrow victory against a long-time rival turned out to be a turning point. The Tigers won their last five games of the 1978 season to win a total of eight games. The year later, in 1979, TSU went on to beat the Rattlers again en route to earning the Black College National Championship.    

The 100 Moments of TSU Athletics presented by Taco Bell® highlights some of the greatest moments in honor of Tennessee State's centennial celebration. A new moment will be released each weekday for a total of 100. These moments were chosen by the TSU 100 Moments committee, which consists of alums from various departments. TSU has so many great moments, not all can be represented in these 100.

Sports Information Assistant Alex Mitchell contributed to this article.

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