Senior running back Philip Sylvester and the Florida A&M football team defeated the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats 38-27 by scoring 24 unanswered points in the second half of the Florida Classic.
Sylvester earned MVP honors in the 31st installment of the Classic in Orlando. Sylvester said the coaching staff insisted on running the ball despite a shaky first half.
“We just stuck with the run,” Sylvester said. “Anytime you’re running the ball, you can’t give up on it. You’ve just got to keep running and pounding it.”
Sylvester ran for 146 yards and three touchdowns after a dismal two yards in the first half. The Rattlers shut the Wildcats out in the second half while scoring three rushing touchdowns in that span.
Florida A&M also had success against Bethune-Cookman through the air. Redshirt-freshman Austin Trainor threw 38 times in the matchup and completed 19 passes for 261 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in front. This was the new starter’s first Classic in front of 61,712 fans.
The Wildcats’ last score of the game was a 35-yard touchdown reception by redshirt-sophomore receiver Eddie Poole with 1:33 left in the first half. The Rattlers’ scoring serge began when redshirt-junior Trevor Scott connected on a 30-yard field goal with 11:58 left in the third quarter.
Sophomore receiver T.J. Lawrence said the Rattlers came out of the locker room with a different mentality after being down 27-14 at halftime. He said head coach Joe Taylor challenged the Rattlers to not become complacent in the second half.
“Coach Taylor said play 60 minutes, not 30 minutes,” Lawrence said. “So we came out the next 30 minutes and stuck with the game plan, they couldn’t do anything with it.”
Lawrence had several touches in Saturday’s matchup. He had 76 yards and a touchdown off five receptions and he had two rushes for seven yards. He also returned two kicks for 62 yards and four punts for 24 yards.
Taylor was blatant in his tactics against the Wildcats and he said he wanted to stick to what the team has done all year. He said he wanted to dominate the ground game despite having an ineffective running game in the first half.
“They knew (Sylvester) was our workhorse,” Taylor said. “But we decided to try to use motion to create a strong side, and we started running him to the weak side of the field.”
The Rattlers were able to expose the Wildcats’ defenders by running counters and play-actions that caught the Wildcats off guard.
The victory gives the Rattlers an overall record of 8-3 and 7-1 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
The Wildcats suffered their first loss of the season (10-1 overall, 7-1 in the MEAC) but will still earn an automatic bid in the FCS playoff via a three-way tie with South Carolina State Bulldogs (9-2 overall, 7-1 in the MEAC) and the Rattlers.