The 2011 Florida Classic didn’t go the way Florida A&M had hoped. As the final seconds ticked off the scoreboard Saturday night at the Citrus Bowl, jubilation was on one sideline while disbelief was on the other.
Bethune-Cookman snapped a three-game Florida Classic losing streak, beating FAMU 26-16. Last season, the Rattlers upset the Wildcats 38-27, handing BCU their only loss of the 2010 season.
It was a tough pill to swallow for faithful FAMU fans and players, especially for a confident group of Rattlers who were riding high after winning four games in a row. The team entered the Classic clinging to flickering playoff hopes.
“We let the game slip away from us,” tackle Robert Hartley said. “We came into the game with really high spirits. Maybe we were a little too high for our own good.”
Any dreams the Rattlers had were quickly erased as the Wildcats forced five Rattler turnovers, three of which were interceptions, and a safety.
FAMU looked as if it would take control of the game early after blocking a punt in the first quarter, but could only manage a 19-yard field goal by Trevor Scott to take an early 3-0 lead. That would be FAMU’s only lead of the afternoon.
“You can never take anything for granted,” senior wide receiver Kevin Elliott said. “We missed too many opportunities out there. We pretty much gave this game away.”
BCU answered back in the second quarter on a four-yard touchdown run by Anthony Jordan to give the Wildcats a 7-3 lead. The Wildcats would add another field goal before halftime to carry a 10-3 advantage into the locker room.
The Wildcats began to pull away early in the third quarter on a 43-yard touchdown run by Johnathan Moment to give the Wildcats a 17-3 lead.
The Rattlers wouldn’t go away quietly as quarterback Damien Fleming connected with senior wide receiver Brian Tyms on a 62-yard touchdown pass on the very next drive to close the gap to seven, but that’s as close as the Rattlers would get.
Bethune-Cookman coach Brian Jenkins said the victory would carry over in the years to come.
“This might be the first win, but it certainly won’t be our last in this game,” Jenkins said. “That was a good football team we played out there and I’m looking forward to the challenge next season.”
Bethune-Cookman dominated the Rattlers on ground, outgaining FAMU 259 to 58.
Head coach Joe Taylor said the run game was the difference.
“If you can’t run the ball, then you won’t win the game,” Taylor said. “The better team won today, but our future is bright.”
The Rattlers had a little more success through the air, however, despite throwing three interceptions. Damien Flemming went 21 for 38 for 287 yards with two touchdowns, earning the Florida Classic Co-MVP award.
FAMU finishes the season 7-4, 5-3 in the MEAC, while BCU ends up at 8-3, 6-2 in the conference.