The 29th Florida Classic presented by State Farm may have lasted four hours and 17 minutes, but the Orlando game was all but over just six minutes into the second quarter.
The Florida A&M Rattlers jumped out to a 31-0 lead over Bethune-Cookman University with 6:51 left in the second quarter and they never looked back on their way to a 58-35 victory.
The game was pivotal for both teams, looking to keep their post-season hopes alive in the Mid -Eastern Atlantic Conference.
Saturday’s game served to be redemption for the Rattlers after last year’s 34-7 loss. The win gave the team a chance to end a eight year playoff drought.
“We knew that if we could get another win in the column, we would be tied with Bethune, Hampton or Morgan State,” said offensive tackle, Robert Okeafor.
Because of Saturday’s win, FAMU ended their season second in the MEAC.
“I would say we’re on the right track,” said Rattler head coach Joe Taylor, “There’s still some things we need to get done, but we’re on the right track.”
FAMU opened up an early 10-0 lead on a 37-yard field goal by kicker Trevor Scott, and a touchdown run from running back Philip Sylvester in the first quarter.
Junior quarterback Curtis Pulley added to the lead in the second quarter with a 21-yard touchdown scamper.
Pulley followed that run with a 51-yard touchdown run that gave the Rattlers a 31-0 lead. Pulley had 153 yards in the half on just 10 carries.
“Our offense has been clicking in the last three games,” Pulley said. “I just think it’s a tribute to everyone wanting to come out and win and put them away early.”
Pulley was named the game’s MVP, after throwing for two touchdowns and running for two more.
Pulley finished the game with 125 yards on 11 for 20 passing and one interception.
B-CU quarterback McKinson Souverain scored two rushing touchdowns of his win in the second quarter to cut the Rattler lead to 31-13.
But the Rattlers responded quickly, on the legs of special return extraordinaire LeRoy Vann. Vann scored on an 83-yard kick return giving the Rattlers a 38-13 lead.
“The coaches, the fans, everybody gave me a shot. I knew that once they kicked the ball to me and my blockers made holes, all I would have to do is turn it on,” Vann said.
He had a total of six combined kickoff and punt returns for touchdowns this season, which is an Football Championship Subdivision record.
He also broke the record for the most punt and kickoff returns.as well as the most yardage gained from punt and kickoff returns with 1,593 yards.
Wildcats running back Androse Bell added another 5-yard plunge to end the first half.
Despite the 60,712 screaming fans and battle of the bands in the stands, Taylor said he reminded his players that Saturday’s game was just another football game.
“I think it helped us out a lot, not focusing on the people here or the bands or anything,” Pulley said of Taylor’s approach to this week. “It’s just a regular football game in a regular stadium. Coach Taylor really did a good job of keeping everybody focused and it showed.”
The Wildcats opened the second half with a touchdown drive that cut the lead to 10 at 38-28, but didn’t see the end zone again until late in the fourth quarter on a touchdown pass to wide receiver Phillip Kirkland.
The Rattlers sealed the game on a 20-yard touchdown pass to senior wide out Isaac West.
Fans said the game was as electrifying as the score indicated.
Dominique Crawford, 21, a junior business administration student from Atlanta said, “This was one of the best games I have seen. It seemed like everyone was on the same page on the field and the crowd could feel it.”
After enduring a 16-17 three-year tenure under former coach Rubin Carter, Saturday appeared to symbolize a resurgence of Rattlers football under Taylor.
The win gave also earned his 205th career victory, propelling him past FAMU’s Hall of Fame coach Alonzo Smith Jake Gaither.