Senior running back Philip Sylvester is not just Florida A&M University’s featured running back. He isn’t just a workhorse and he isn’t just a two-time Florida Classic MVP.
Sylvester, this year’s second-team All-MEAC running back, is the unquestioned, undisputed, leader of the Rattlers’ offense.
The Florida Classic was the perfect showcase of Sylvester’s ability to impact the Rattlers’ offense. Sylvester dominated the second half of the game, rushing for 144 yards and three touchdowns, and helped the Rattlers score 24 unanswered points en route to a 38-27 victory over Bethune-Cookman University.
“We just run our game plan,” Sylvester said. “They can’t stop it for 60 minutes. You might stop it in the first half but you can’t stop it all game.”
Sylvester only rushed for two yards on eight attempts in the first half. Head coach Joe Taylor made adjustments to free up Sylvester.
“They knew he was our workhorse,” Taylor said. “What we decided to do was to use motion and try to create a strong side to the field. We started running him weakside away from the way they were slamming.”
Redshirt-junior wide receiver T.J. Lawrence congratulated Sylvester after the Classic when both were candidates for the game’s MVP award.
Sylvester’s season has been enriched with career-high games and streaks. When he is successful, the Rattlers are as well. The Rattlers began the season 2-3 and Sylvester was contained, amassing only 114 yards in three games.
During the Rattlers’ six-game winning streak to end the regular season, Sylvester has found room to run, exploding for 913 yards and rushing for more than 100 yards in each of his last six games.
Title hopes dashed
Florida A&M’s win against Bethune-Cookman University puts the team in the unique situation of a three-way tie for first place for the regular season title in the MEAC. The Wildcats were ranked No. 7 in the nation before the loss.
Bethune-Cookman owns the tiebreaker by virtue of the team’s undefeated out-of-conference schedule. The Wildcats, by virtue of the tiebreaker own the automatic playoff bid and as well as a first-round bye.
Sunday it was announced by the FCS Network the Rattlers were not selected for an at-large bid to the playoffs. The at-large team from the MEAC was South Carolina State (9-2, 7-1 in the MEAC). The Bulldogs will face Georgia Southern, a longtime playoff rival of Florida A&M.
“In my mind we deserve to be in there,” Taylor said after the Classic. “South Carolina State beat us. Bethune beat South Carolina. We beat Bethune. To me, it should be obvious that we should be in the playoffs.”
New home, same pride
Lawrence put together one of his best performances of the season during his first Florida Classic as a Rattler. Lawrence caught five passes for 76 yards and a touchdown.
He also had a punt return called back because of a hold penalty. The return would have been a 47-yard touchdown.
Lawrence’s first action in the game was a punt he muffed.
“When I first came out on the punt return I bobbled the ball,” Lawrence said. “I said, ‘I have to get the jitters out.’ Once the jitters got out I just had to keep it rolling.”