The Bethune-Cookman Wildcats used a balanced attack on offense and an opportunistic defense, which came up with a crucial turnover late in the game to defeat their arch rival Florida A&M 21-16 in the 2012 Florida Blue Florida Classic.
The win gave the Wildcats their second consecutive Florida Classic victory over the Rattlers and more importantly, their first undefeated season in league play in 28 years.
The Wildcats were led offensively by quarterback Quentin Williams, who had 206 yards of total offense (12-18 for 120 yards, 86 rushing) and a touchdown, while runningback Isidore Jackson rushed for 77 yards on 13 carries, coming up just eight yards shy of eclipsing the 1,000 yard mark.
Defensively for the Cats, Jarkevis Fields led all defenders with 11 total tackles (8 solo) and two tackles for loss.
For all the things that were missing at the game, namely the FAMU Marching 100 and about an additional 20,000 patrons, the most important element was still there; exciting drama-filled football provided by Williams of B-CU and Damien Fleming of FAMU.
Fleming was particularly efficient running the FAMU offense completing a blistering 78% of his passes (18-23) for 166 yards and a touchdown. His top receivers, Lenworth Lennon and Travis Harvey caught 10 of Fleming’s 18 passes for 66 yards (Lennon-6-41, Harvey-4-25).
“He’s the engine that moves the offense, acting head coach Earl Holmes said. A lot of the decision-making he makes is about team and about finding the guy that’s open. At the end of the day, he’s our guy and we’re only going as far as he takes us.”
Although the Wildcats entered the game the favorites, Fleming and FAMU led for the better part of the first half and middle of the third quarter and had an opportunity to score the go-ahead touchdown with less than four minutes remaining in the game.
“To see those guys come out and play as hard and resilient as they played is truly impressive and it goes to show you about their coaching staff, Jenkins said. It also speaks volume about those players…they believe in FAMU and came out and showed it.”
The first quarter of the game saw the Wildcats sputter on offense as they went three and out on their first possession and turned the ball over later in the quarter on a Quentin Williams fumble. Meanwhile, the Rattler used a 9 play, 55 yard drive using 3:44 to take a 3-0 lead on a 20 yard Chase Varnadore field goal with 10:04 remaining in the first quarter.
Finally at the end of the first quarter, the Wildcats got on the board with an 11 play, 94 yard drive, one of their longest of the season. On the first play of the drive, Williams took a quarterback keeper 53 yards down the field to put the Wildcats deep in Rattler territory. The drive was culminated when WR Eddie Poole snatched a one yard TD pass away from FAMU defender to give the Cats a 7-3 lead with 1:09 remaining in the 1st quarter.
The Rattlers would then respond with a 90+ yard drive of their own, theirs a seven play, 97 yard drive capped by runningback James Owens who raced 41 yards using a bevy of moves to give the Rattlers a 10-7 lead with 4:22 remaining in the game. The drive was the longest the Bethune-Cookman defense had surrendered all season.
B-CU would threaten on their last drive of the first half, driving the ball to the FAMU 19 yard line, but Sven Hurd’s 36 yard field goal was blocked by FAMU’s Devan Roberts to keep the lead at 10-7 headed into intermission.
It would take another twelve minutes before there was another score in the game, and it was a critical one. Facing 4th and 3 from the FAMU 34 yard line, Williams pitched the ball to Isidore Jackson who raced down the left sideline untouched to give the Cats a 14-10 lead with 3:13 remaining in the third quarter.
Early in the fourth period, the Wildcats found themselves in the same position. Facing another 4th and 3, this time from the FAMU 7 yard line, RB Andronicus Lovett rumbled ahead for six yards to give the Cats first and goal from the Rattlers 1 yard line. One play later, Lovett capped the 10 play 74 yard drive with a one yard dive into the end zone to give the Wildcats a commanding 21-10 lead with 11:22 remaining in the game.
Jenkins hinted around the fact that he went for those fourth downs instead of punting or going for a field goal because of some things he’d seen in FAMU’s defense.
“We’ve been playing this defense for a couple of years and for some reason they had us off balance early that we couldn’t quite get figured out, Jenkins said. Finally when I was able to figure some things out with their defense and their checks we were able to move the ball in the second half and come out victorious.”
On the ensuing drive, FAMU answered with a scoring drive of their own going 61 yards in seven plays, capped by a 37 yard touchdown pass from Fleming where he eluded two Wildcat defenders and lofted a pass into the corner of the end zone to a wide open Dewayne Harvey. On the extra point attempt, BCU’s Dawud Lane was able to get a great surge and blocked the extra point attempt (his third in three games), keeping the score at 21-16.
“It just started with a great jump off the ball, Lane said. It goes back to how we practice. Once a touchdown is scored, nothing can be done about that, so you just have to move on to the next play. We got a good push by LaBrandon Richardson and Harold Love, III where I could just come scot free.”
With the opportunity to put the game away late in the game, B-CU’s offense stalled once again, punting the ball back to the Rattlers with less than four minutes remaining setting up a potential game-winning drive for FAMU.
With their legion of fans cheering them on, FAMU drove the ball down to the Bethune-Cookman 45 yard line. On 2nd and 17, Fleming dropped back looking for his favorite target Lennon when he was sacked by B-CU’s Love who forced Fleming to fumble the football. Wildcats DT Tevin Toney recovered the ball at the FAMU 47 yard line, all but thwarting any chances of a Rattler comeback, and the FAMU faithful headed for the exits.
FAMU drops to 4-7 overall (4-4 MEAC) with the loss and have a number of things to figure out headed into the offseason, most importantly, who will be their head coach at the beginning of next season. Although things have been trying the last year for the Rattlers, Holmes was proud of the way Rattler fans showed up in droves to the game.
“Our fans are appreciated, Holmes said. Anytime you have Rattler nation behind you, you understand some things are gonna happen. They want us to win, we want to win and we just have to find a way to put it together.”
Bethune-Cookman improves to 9-2 overall (8-0 MEAC) with the victory and extended its winning streak to seven games. They will now turn their attention to ESPNU today at 1:30PM, where they will learn who they will face in the opening round of the NCAA FCS Playoffs. The Wildcats have submitted a bid and expect to host, but Jenkins wasn’t overly optimistic when asked about the team’s chances.
“Look at our record and look at what we’ve done, Jenkins said. If you look at the teams we’ve lost to (Miami-FL and Tennessee State) both of them are top teams and we were in both games. We have one of the best winning percentages(in FCS) in the last three years, we lead the nation in turnover margin and we’re the winningest team in the state of Florida the last three years, so if all those accolades don’t give us the opportunity to host, some things need to go back to the evaluation table. I am sure the committee will see fit to make the right choice and whatever choice they make, we’ll be OK with it.”