The number seven was not lucky for the Rattlers on Saturday at Florida Classic XXIII in Orlando.
Their seven-game winning streak against archrival Bethune-Cookman College was snapped in a very frustrating 37-10 loss because they surrendered seven costly turnovers.
By winning their seventh conference game of the season, BCC (11-1) took home the Mid-Eastern Athletic Championship, while the Rattlers had to cancel their seventh straight trip to the Division 1-AA playoffs and limp into the off-season with merely seven wins (7-5).
Starting quarterback Allen Suber, who has already rushed and passed for over 1000 yards this season as the Wildcat’s leader, only played the first series. But BCC did not subside as its defense took over and only allowed 10 points, even after the Rattlers threatened in the red zone six times.
“That’s when you show that you are a championship defense, when can step up and stop people inside the red zone,” said BCC junior outside linebacker Steve Baggs, who had a fumble recovery, a blocked punt, a sack and eight tackles.
“I feel that the defense is the backbone of this whole team.”
Baggs’ fumble recovery came on the Rattlers first drive. On the second play, quarterback Reggie Hayes dropped back to pass and immediately saw a receiver, he then cocked his arm back to throw but the football mistakenly slipped out of his hand. Baggs picked the ball up and ran 30 yards for the game’s first touchdown.
The score was 7-0 and BCC would add three more on their next possession with a 23-yard field goal by Daniel King.
Baggs’ blocked punt occurred late in the second quarter. BCC then used the excellent field position (FAMU 32) to extend their lead to 17-0 with a 30-yd touchdown pass from quarterback Lawrence McCloud to receiver Erik Lash.
On the Rattlers’ previous possession, Hayes completed just his first pass of the game for positive yardage with a 68-yard strike to junior receiver Andrae Harrison, which put the Rattlers on the BCC eight-yard line. However, the Rattlers came away empty as they were stopped on third and fourth and one on the one-yard line.
“We were too laxed in the first half,” said senior receiver Charlie Allen, who had four receptions in his last game as a Rattler.
The Rattlers were able to score 10 unanswered points on their last possession of the first half (32-yard field goal by Juan Vasquez) and first possession of the second half on a 7-play, 65-yard drive for a touchdown.
Thus after a miserable first half on offense, the Rattlers were within one score, down 17-10 with 9:34 left in the third quarter.
Unfortunately, the offense messed up two legit chances to tie the score given by an impressive Rattler defense unit that did not allow a first down in the third quarter. On third and three on the Wildcats’ 23, Hayes overthrew receiver Andrae Harrison into the hands of BCC free safety Rashean Mathis with 3:52 left in the third for his first of three interceptions.
And then after a 44-yard run by sophomore Devvin Richardson to start the fourth quarter, which put the Rattlers on the BCC five, freshman full back Paul Sharpe eventually fumbled.
On the ensuing play, BCC quarterback Lawrence McCloud ran 10 yards before he pitched the ball on the QB option play to speedster Lamont Finnie who had an open field and raced for the touchdown.
“They were an opportunist team,” said Hayes who was named Most Valuable Player of the game for the Rattlers. “They took advantage of every opportunity that we gave them.
BCC would score two more touchdowns on interception returns in that fourth quarter as the Wildcats ran away with the win.
“I don’t want to diminish or take away from his (BCC head coach) victory by complaining about injuries and complaining about this and complaining about that,” said head coach Billy Joe. “Who knows, if we had all of our forces and resources, maybe he would have still beat us, but I would like to have seen that.”
This team has been infected with the injury bug all season long as almost every key player on the team has had to play through a debilitating injury or had nurse one from the sidelines. And the well of reserves eventually ran dry.
The fact that they were in position to become the MEAC champions Saturday with a win is a testament to the will of a Rattler
“I am really proud of this team because they never had quit in their mind or in their vocabulary when we were counted down and out and much maligned,” Joe said.