Florida A&M University won 26-23 in an overtime thriller against rival Bethune-Cookman College in Saturday’s Florida Classic XXVI in front of 70,112 fans at Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium in Orlando.
FAMU, led by game MVP, quarterback Albert Chester, displayed remarkable resilience in their comeback effort from an early 17-0 deficit, in a contest that provided a storybook ending perfectly fitting its Walt Disney World sponsor.
Chester, who teamed up with senior quarterback Josh Driscoll to post 374 total yards, led the Rattler assault with 164 yards in the air and rushed for 82 yards.
“Um, yes,” answered Chester emphatically with very little hesitation when asked if this was the biggest win of his life. “In my life so far, but look for us next year, we’ll be back.”
The victory ended the three-year series winning streak for the archrival Wildcats of BCC in a familar setting for both teams, as last year’s contest ended in overtime heartbreak as well. Except, in this year’s version of the Florida Classic, it was the Rattlers elated and celebrating as the game concluded.
The win also means that the Rattlers have achieved their first winning season since 2002, in the first year of “The Carter Era.”
“To finish the way they did, and come out with a winning season is very special for me and the guys,” said coach Rubin Carter of the win and season. “Our motto is ‘strike the rock,’ and we showed that by chipping away at the rock today.”
Overshadowed in the commotion of the victory, Rattlers running back Rashard Pompey surpassed the historic mark of 3,000 career yards, becoming only the third Rattler ever to do so. Pompey finished the game with 85 yards, 66 coming in the fourth quarter, giving him just enough to finish with 3,006 career yards as a FAMU Rattler.
“Everything I wanted to happen happened. I knew they had faith in me and it made me run harder,” said Pompey. “I just wanted to finish with a winning record and beat BCC and that’s what we did.”
The vision of victory proved to be a bit blurry in the beginning, as the Wildcats pounced first, jumping to a 17-0 lead in the first quarter of play.
The Wildcats seemed to have the number of the Rattlers’ defense in the early-goings on a simple equation; the option play. Seemingly the only play that worked in the first quarter did just that, worked.
The equation proved immediately effective, as the lead indicated, also indicated by the fact that Russell, and his primary receiving target Eric Weems, led the team in rushing yards with 139 and 80-yards respectively.
The offensive momentum would not be enough to seal the victory, as the Rattlers defense redeemed themselves by not allowing any points after the half.
The second half of play proved to be all Rattlers, as they slowly chipped away at the 23-10 deficit going into the half.
Drives included a 46-yard drive led by Chester and ending in a 38-yard Wesley Taylor field goal, leaving the game at 23-13 to end the third quarter.
The next, a 90-yard drive, saw big rushes from Chester, big receptions from receivers Roosevelt Kiser and Ronald Wright, and concluded with a Pompey rushing touchdown, his second of the night, closing the gap to 23-20 late in the game.
Late defensive play surged the orange and green assault leading to a punt to give the Rattlers their last possession of regulation with 1:49 left on the clock.
With an active theme of clutch heroics in mind, Taylor nailed a 43-yard field goal with only 13-seconds left in regulation, to knot the contest at 23-23, and send the game into overtime.
With so much at stake, and the newly emerged energy of the fans, the Rattlers momentum was not yet ready to subside.
With the Wildcats receiving the first possession of overtime from the FAMU 26, the defense, once again, rose to the occasion forcing a 40-yard field goal attempt by kicker Jesus Cortez, which missed wide left.
One more chance for the Rattlers to seal the deal, and they would take full advantage of the opportunity in front of them. Pompey took the game into his own hands with big rushes, including a 14-yard explosion on a third-and eleven situation. Taylor would land the game-winning kick from the one-yard line and the field immediately stormed orange and green.
“Dream come true,” said Taylor amidst the celebration. “I’ve been going to this game since I was nine years old, and I never thought I’d be playing on this field and to win the game, it’s a dream come true.”
Contact Reginald Snowden at email@example.com