Heading into its battle against the Bethune-Cookman College Wildcats, the Florida A&M University Rattlers football team knows one thing for sure. Of all the games to win, this one is the most important.
“This one is for all the marbles,” said junior defensive back Jason Beach. “You don’t want to go home in the off-season with that bitter taste in your mouth.”
The Wildcats are familiar with that sour taste, as they blew a 17-point first quarter lead in last year’s 26-23 loss to the Rattlers.
FAMU won the game with an overtime field goal by junior kicker Wesley Taylor. Considering the Rattlers’ penchant for late-game heroics this season, the classic could have another thrilling finish.
“The game will probably come down to the wire,” said redshirt sophomore linebacker Vernon Wilder.
FAMU will still have two of its main cogs from last year’s come-from-behind victory: Taylor and redshirt junior quarterback Albert Chester II. Taylor said that if the game falls on his shoulders, he would be ready.
“I love the spotlight; I love helping my teammates. They have faith in me,” Taylor said.
Chester, after suffering an ankle injury in FAMU’s 59-7 loss to Hampton, is expected to start. Chester, one of the many Rattlers who are nursing injuries, said nothing will stop him from taking the field Saturday afternoon.
“They’re going to have to cut this ankle off for me not to play,” Chester said.
On defense, starting linebackers Wilder and junior Dannel Shepard and junior defensive end Tyrone McGriff were also out against Hampton. Senior Chris Wooten is looking to get back to form after returning from a leg injury. And sophomore center Steve Brazzle was also out with a dislocated shoulder. “We are going to have to suck up all the nicks and bruises,” Beach said.
FAMU head coach Rubin Carter said he believes the game’s significance will drive his players to play through injuries.
“This isn’t a game that our players want to miss. I think they are going to almost make themselves get well. They’ll be ready to play,” Carter said.
FAMU will look for a better performance from a defense that gave up 410 yards, including 256 rushing yards and 4 rushing touchdowns, against the Hampton offense.
“The biggest thing for us this week is to stop the run,” Wilder said.
The Rattler defense will also have to keep the two-headed quarterback attack the Wildcats showcase at bay. B-CC quarterbacks Jimmie Russell and Jarod Rucker may prove to be a stumbling block for a struggling FAMU defense. “They have two excellent quarterbacks at B-CC. They could impose a challenge,” Carter said.
Russell is the Wildcats’ biggest ground threat, as he leads the team in rushes and total rushing yards.The team said it is important to forget last week’s embarrassing home loss and focus on this week’s game.
“I don’t know what happened last week,” said senior wide receiver Roosevelt Kiser, who will play in his final Florida Classic.
“At this point, records don’t matter. We’re not thinking about the playoffs or anything else, just getting a win,” Kiser said.Carter said the game will come down to big plays and momentum changes.
“We have to play with great effort. If we keep the game close, we’ll have the opportunity to win. We are going to put our hard hats on and go to work,” Carter said.
Carter said no matter the outcome of the game, plenty of fans will enjoy watching it.
“Seventy-five thousand plus alumni, fans and students will be watching. The players are excited,” Carter said.The players said bragging rights would play a major part in how the team approaches the game.
“You can go 10-0 and lose the Classic, and the season is a failure. And then you can go 0-10 and win the Classic, and the season is a success. So this is one you have to win,” Beach said.The game will begin 3:30 p.m. Saturday at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando.