Brad Gillens | Orlando, FL – Runningback Danny Dillard scored from one yard out and reserve quarterback Larry Brihm rushed for two point conversion to give the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats a dramatic 18-17 overtime win over in state rival Florida A&M in the 35th Florida Blue Florida Classic. The Wildcats, facing 4th and 12 from their 27 yard line, got a 26 yard completion from Brihm to receiver Jhomo Gordon to set up the one yard plunge by Dillard three plays later. Immediately afterward, the Wildcats brought their offense on the field to complete the successful two point try, something Jenkins said he was encouraged to do all week by his son.
“I heard a little birdie say go for two, Jenkins said. No, you’re not going to believe this but my son all week said go for two. If you have the chance dad, go for two. So when we made a touchdown I wanted to see a few things, we had the right formation and I gave the signal to the guys and we executed it. I just believe in my players.”
FAMU head coach Cory Fuller said he and his team just did the best they could.
“We worked on that play all week and we told them on the sideline. When you try to make this situation the best you can in four weeks, you see all the flaws of a football team; how undisciplined they are and you see the character of the team when the game was on the line. It’s obvious we’re not as fundamentally sound as we need to be, but our kids, for four weeks, they bought it, listened and gutted it out through a tough situation.”
The Wildcats improved to 9-3 (5-2 MEAC) with the win and captured a share of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title for the fourth time in five years. The only year the Cats have not at least won a share of the title under Brian Jenkins’ tenure was 2011, his second season.
The win also marked the first time in Florida Classic history that B-CU defeated FAMU four straight years. Their last loss to the Rattlers came in 2010, spoiling Jenkins’ inaugural season as he was poised to finish the regular season 11-0.
Leading the Wildcats offensively was junior quarterback Quentin Williams, who went 8-14 for 77 yards and an interception and Michael D. Jones, who rushed for 100 yards on 19 carries and a touchdown.
Defensively, the Cats were paced by linebacker Ralph Williams, who tallied 11 total tackles (0.5 for loss); followed by Tavarus Dantzler with seven total tackles (0.5 for loss).
For the Rattlers (3-9, 3-5 MEAC), the loss gave them their third straight losing season in a row. Quarterback Damien Fleming led the FAMU offensive attack going 9-25-2 for 88 yards and a touchdown playing in his final game as a Rattler. Asked about how he felt about his performance knowing it was his last Florida Classic, Fleming was disappointed.
“It’s a tough loss, he said. It was like a boxing match, just going back and forth, back and forth, until the end. We were able to take the lead and then just let it slip. It’s a tough loss.”
Jenkins was extremely effusive in his praise of Fleming in his post game press conference.
“Fleming put this team on his back, Jenkins said. He’s represented Florida A&M, his family and himself very well over the years. He’ll go down in history as one of the best quarterbacks at FAMU. He had an upgrade on leadership in that program.”
The first half of the game was a defensive struggle as both teams’ offenses had tough times capitalizing on drives. The Wildcats drove the ball into the FAMU redzone twice in the first half, but each time came away with no points as they were stopped on downs on their first opportunity and Ben Noboa missed a 41 yard field goal with 0:36 remaining in the first half. At the end of the half, B-CU and FAMU had managed to again make Florida Classic history, as their 0-0 halftime score marked the first time in the game’s 35 year history that neither team managed to score.
In the second half, the offenses finally decided to join the game as Michael D. Jones capped an 11 play, 66 yard drive over 4:07 to give the Cats a 7-0 lead with 1:16 remaining in the third quarter. Florida A&M responded with a 60+ yard drive of their own, going 74 yards on 12 plays, capped by Florida Classic MVP Damien Fleming’s two yard run to even the game at 7-7 with 9:51 remaining the game.
The Wildcats special teams then made a key mistake late in the game that gave Florida A&M excellent field position. Following a Chase Varnadore punt, return specialist Frank Brown muffed the punt, which was recovered by the Rattlers at the Wildcat 11 yard line. Four plays later, Varnadore booted a 29 yard field goal to give the Rattlers their first lead of the game, 10-7 with 3:47 remaining in the game.
B-CU with their backs against the wall, responded with a 10 play, 50 yard drive that spanned 3:11, culminated by a 32 yard Haden Hoggarth field goal that tied the game at 10-10 with 0:39 remaining. The drive was highlighted by a crucial 4th down run by Brihm where he kept the ball on the read option and evaded several would be tacklers en route to a 23 yard gain to put the Cats in the redzone.
The Wildcats won the overtime period and elected to put their defense on the field first. On the Rattlers’ first possession of the period, Fleming found Kareem Smith down the right side for a 13 yard touchdown pass to give the Rattlers a 17-10 lead, much to the delight of the Rattler crowd on hand. The Wildcats then took possession and Brihm led the team for the game winning score.
The Wildcats will now turn their attention to tomorrow’s FCS Selection Show on ESPNU to find out whether they will receive an at-large bid to the FCS Playoffs for the fourth time in five years. The selection show is set to air at 11AM EST.