[an error occurred while processing this directive]
The Rattlers fend off B-CC 31-28 in the series' first close game since '94.
By JAMAL THALJI
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 19, 2000
ORLANDO -- Bethune-Cookman coach Alvin Wyatt long has complained of archrival Florida A&M's edge in talent, resources and glory.
But in Saturday night's thrilling 21st annual Florida Classic, the difference between the favored Rattlers and the underdog Wildcats was reduced to this:
FAMU held off B-CC 31-28 in the wildest Classic since 1994, clinching the program's third Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championship in six years and an automatic berth in next week's 16-team Division I-AA playoffs in a four-hour odyssey in front of a record 70,719 at the Florida Citrus Bowl.
Ecstatic FAMU coach Billy Joe was glad to be the survivor.
"I don't want it this competitive again," he said. "These kinds of games only make you old. They kill you."
FAMU (9-2, 7-1 MEAC), ranked No. 13 in the Sports Network I-AA poll, might have ended No. 16 B-CC's season. With three wins over Division II teams, B-CC (9-2, 6-2) might not earn an at-large playoff bid.
There was no lack of subplots and fantastic plays as the lead changed seven times. But the play of the game may have been the one that wasn't attempted.
Wyatt, facing fourth and 31 at his 35 with 2:43 left in the game and one timeout left, chose to punt instead of going for the first down or the end zone.
"The last possession was the championship possession," Wyatt said. "Deep down in my heart, I thought if we had the ball on the last possession, that would be the key to the game. But we gave up a sack, had a holding penalty and an illegal lineman downfield.
"We had a lot of circumstances that were unfortunate, but we hung in there like the champions we are."
Said Joe: "Yes, I was very much surprised. I thought there was some trickery coming. When they punted it, what I thought was, all we need to do is make a first down and run the clock out."
FAMU did both. Afterward, devastated B-CC players slowly walked off the field, having come so close to their first win over FAMU in six years of blowouts.
B-CC took its last lead of the game with 14:13 left thanks to a wild and inventive play from Rashean Mathis.
Juan Vasquez's 45-yard field-goal attempt fell short of the goal posts, and waiting in the end zone for the ball was Mathis. He snagged it and sprinted for the opposite end zone, running through a surprised FAMU kick unit, then breaking free into the open for a 100-yard return for a touchdown to give the Wildcats a 28-25 lead.
"It was my own idea," Mathis said. "The previous kick I saw was short, so I went back there myself. They had a field-goal kicking team out there and most of them are linemen, so I knew if I caught the ball I could make (a play.)"
But FAMU's offense managed to squeeze out two more field goals in the fourth, as Vasquez kicked a 23-yarder with 11:28 left to tie it at 28 and a 34-yarder with 7:24 left that proved to be the winner.
FAMU took a 13-0 lead in the second quarter. Quarterback Quinn Gray hit Marco Junious with a 54-yard touchdown and Jacquay Nunnally with a 16-yard score.
B-CC answered with its two quarterbacks. Allen Suber, a Tampa Catholic grad, threw a 60-yard touchdown to Antonio "Mookie" Stanley, who also caught a 22-yard score from senior Pa'tell Troutman with 26 seconds left in the half to make it 14-13 as B-CC took a halftime lead for the first time in six years.
Gray answered in the second half with two more touchdown runs, while B-CC countered with Marquis Williams' 10-yard touchdown run. Danny Mathis' 49-yard field-goal attempt that went left with 10:12 left was B-CC's last chance to tie it.
Gray completed 30 of 56 passes for 388 yards, all Classic records, and two touchdowns and rushed for 31 yards and two more scores. Nunnally finished his record-breaking career at FAMU with 12 catches for 131 yards.