For the next year Bethune-Cookman University Coach Alvin Wyatt can go to his alumni, to his boosters, into the homes of recruits and say what he hasn't been able to for two years.
Bethune-Cookman won the Florida Classic.
Wyatt's Wildcats dominated Florida A&M University on Saturday at the Citrus Bowl in the 28th annual clash. Before an announced crowd of 65,367, B-CU (5-6, 3-5 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference) recovered four FAMU fumbles, then shut out the Rattlers (3-8, 2-6) in the second half to win, 34-7.
B-CU now trails FAMU in the series 15-45-1 and has won four of the last six Florida Classics.
"There are no words for this," B-CU quarterback Jimmie Russell said. "But if we would have won 34-33, there still wouldn't be any words. A win like this, for me, I'll remember for the rest of my life."
It started with turnovers -- the first by FAMU's LeRoy Vann, who fumbled the opening kickoff. The Wildcats' Ben Ballard recovered that drop.
"It was all special teams," B-CU linebacker Josh Balloon said. "I've never seen our special teams get out like that."
The Wildcats didn't score then, but they did score off the Rattlers' next fumble.
That came three drives later.
FAMU's Philip Sylvester fumbled at the Rattlers' 40-yard line and Balloon recovered it. B-CU scored on their ensuing drive when Justin Brannon ran in a one-yard touchdown on the first play of the second quarter.
Sylvester finished with a game-high 205 all-purpose yards -- 123 on kick returns. Brannon led B-CU with 140 yards rushing on 20 carries.
The Wildcats' third first-half forced fumble resulted in an immediate touchdown.
With less than two minutes remaining in the second quarter, B-CU punted to FAMU's Keon Strachan.
Strachan ran six yards before getting thumped by B-CU sophomore Brent Davis. The ball popped out of Strachan's hands and into Ballard's, who ran forward 36 yards to put the Wildcats up 21-7 going into halftime.
"They say I'm blessed," Ballard said. "It came right to me. . . . Every time I've ever scooped up a fumble here at Bethune-Cookman, I'm gone. I'm running scared, no one can catch me."
B-CU kept that momentum throughout the second half, shutting out the Rattlers and scoring 13 points.
The Wildcats' defense kept FAMU's offense bottled up throughout the game. FAMU picked up 158 total yards on 42 offensive plays -- nearly half B-CU's 80 plays. The Rattlers didn't have a first down until 4:56 remained in the second quarter. That conversion came on FAMU's only scoring drive.
"To hold them to seven points in the Florida Classic -- you can't ask for more," Russell said. "I figured if we score 21 points, we should win. But like this?"
FAMU quarterback Eddie Battle threw a 24-yard touchdown pass to Jarvis Funderburk midway though the second quarter. Battle, a redshirt freshman, finished the game with 57 passing yards and 3 rushing yards on 2 carries.
"He made some mistakes and some poor decisions, but he's a young quarterback who's continuing to develop and grow," FAMU Coach Rubin Carter said. "He was pressed into service a lot earlier than we thought he would be."
Russell, meanwhile, was named B-CU's MVP for his 78 yards passing on eight completions and 54 rushing yards.
Russell scored B-CU's second touchdown, following center K.C. Giger for the 1-yard score.
"It's a great offense," Russell said of B-CU's Wyattbone offense. "When it's effective, it's the greatest thing in the world."
The Wildcats rushed for 336 yards with 414 yards of total offense.
The win was enough to make the Wildcats feel like they hadn't completed their second consecutive losing season or finished in the bottom half of the MEAC.
"It feels like a winning season," Balloon said.
Tania Ganguli can be reached at email@example.com.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun