Wildcats pull off upset of Rattlers in Classic win
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer
ORLANDO – What transpired on the field at Camping World Stadium was enough to make grown men cry last Saturday night.
With a little more than five minutes left in the 40th Florida Blue Classic, FAMU led the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats by a field goal and seemingly was poised to snap the dominance of the Wildcats in the series. B-CU had won eight straight previously.
As it turned out, though, the Wildcats weren’t done with the dramatics that they had pulled off all afternoon in front of crowd of 55,730. Their final act resulted in a 31-24 victory, marking the ninth consecutive year that the Wildcats have beaten FAMU.
The Wildcats went to work with 5:38 left in the fourth quarter and that was enough for them to silence the FAMU crowd that was sensing that the Rattlers will hold on for one more last-second win. They had done it at least four times during the stretch of nine wins without a loss.
That hope, however, only lasted until the final 2:14 when B-CU scored the winning touchdown. Quarterback Akevious Williams engineered a 10-play drive that ended with Isaac Washington rushing 15 yards on a first-and-10 play, going all the way for the score. Jonathon Thomas kicked the PAT.
As he had so many times this season, quarterback Ryan Stanley got the last two minutes to make this the time in his career that he lead his first win in the Classic. FAMU was poised, too. Then, on fourth-and-3 from their own 48, Stanley was intercepted by Devin James.
End of threat and a season in which the Rattlers were going undefeated in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference until last Saturday night.
“This one hurts,” said coach Willie Simmons. “The immediate impact of it hurts but once tomorrow comes, the sun will shine again and we will realize that we have done some great things this year.”
At his side were Stanley and linebacker Elijah Richardson. Both, like Simmons, were overcome by emotions. Stanley was barely audible through his sobbing when he tried to answer reporters’ questions.
“This loss really hurts,” he said. Then he became inaudible again.
He will look back and think about how much better his season was than the one night that he lost to Bethune-Cookman. He will think about all of the school records that he set, breaking longstanding marks set by Quinn Gray.
He will also remember how this FAMU team was ranked No. 1 in most polls and was on the verge of being the champion Black college football team.
Oh, and he will be talking about being named Most Valuable Player in the Classic.
“I don’t care what anybody says, we are the MEAC champs,” said Simmons, his pride overriding his emotions. “These guys have really done a great job in bringing the tradition back to this program. I’m forever grateful for that.”
Richardson didn’t say much, except he wanted to reassure the players that he, Stanley and the other seniors are leaving behind that they are in good hands with Simmons at the helm.
Richardson finished the night with nine tackles, including a sack. The other time that FAMU affected Williams was an interception by Eric Smith that he returned 29 yards.
FAMU parlayed the pick into a two-yard run by Azende Rey that brought the Rattlers back from the biggest deficit they’d faced all season, cutting the Wildcats’ lead 21-20 early in the third quarter. BC-U pushed its lead to 24-20 on a Jonathan Thomas 25-yard field goal.
Showing some urgency like it hadn’t most of the afternoon, FAMU elected to go for it on fourth down, getting a first down. That set up a two-yard run by Rey that gave FAMU its first lead, 27-24 after Ayhia Aly added the PAT.
Eventually the night got to a point that Simmons seemingly wished he didn’t have to mention.
“We went into the week preparing to stop the run and we didn’t do a good job with that,” he said. “Too many missed assignments too many missed communications. They flew around (but) we just didn’t finish tackles.”