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november21pic11Bethune-Cookman lived up to its ranking as one of the top rushing teams in the Football Championship Subdivison Saturday

Bethune-Cookman lived up to its ranking as one of the top rushing teams in the Football Championship Subdivison Saturday at the Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando.

The Wildcats wore down archrival Florida A&M with an overpowering running game that produced 259 yards as they defeated the Rattlers 26-16 in the 32nd Florida Classic.

The defeat ended Florida A&M’s three-game Classic winning streak.

The Wildcats (8-3, 7-2) had hoped the victory would get them into the 20-team FCS playoff field with an at-large berth. However, the selection committee snubbed them in favor of the OVC runner-up Eastern Kentucky (7-4) and James Madison (7-4), the sixth-place team in the Colonial Athletic Association. That leaves MEAC champion Norfolk State, which received an automatic berth as a result of winning the conference title, as the conference’s only representative in the field. The Spartans (9-2) will face CAA runner-up Old Dominion (9-2).

The victory, however, did make amends for a disappointing loss to Florida A&M last season in the Classic. The Wildcats squandered a 27-14 halftime lead en route to 38-27 loss, their first defeat of the 2010 season after reeling off a school record 10 consecutive wins.

“We fell short last year, and we let that game slip away from us,” Bethune-Cookman coach Brian Jenkins said. “We had no doubt that if we could find a way, we could make this game go the way we wanted.”

The Wildcats got off to an inauspicious start. They went three-and-out on their first possession, which began at their four-yard line, and on fourth down, Anthony Shutt blocked Kory Kowalski’s punt.

The Rattlers recovered the ball at the nine, but they only managed a field goal for a 3-0 lead.

Bethune-Cookman rebounded to take a 17-3 lead on the strength of its running game. The Wildcats averaged 4.9 yards per carry, and five ball carriers rushed for at least 30 yards each.

Isidore Jackson, the Wildcats’ MVP, ran for 88 yards on 19 carries; Jonathan Moment added 60 yards – including a 43-yard touchdown run – on five carries and had 45 yards on 12 carries; Anthony Jordan gained 34 yards on nine rushes and scored touchdowns on runs of four and six yards, and quarterback Jackie Wilson picked up 32 yards on eight rushing attempts.

Florida A&M’s freshman quarterback Damien Fleming, who threw for 287 yards, got the Rattlers back in the game with a 62-yard touchdown pass to Brian Tyms at 10:05 of the third quarter. The Wildcats put the game out of reach with Jordan’s second touchdown and safety by defensive end Ryan Davis, who tackled Fleming in the end zone as the quarterback attempted to recover the ball following a bad center snap.

The Wildcats’ defense had a big game, intercepting three passes and forcing five turnovers.

“We wanted to create some turnovers,” Jenkins said. “We knew if we could come in and run our offense and let our players play and have good decisions, we had a chance.”

The Wildcats also held Florida A&M to just 59 yards rushing, making the Rattlers’ offense one dimensional. But Rattlers coach Joe Taylor, who lost in the Classic for the first time in his four-year tenure, said that the turnovers, more than anything, were his team’s undoing.

“That’s the storyline,” Taylor said. “You can’t turn the ball over to anybody, especially a good team.”

Florida A&M drove 85 yards in 11 plays for the final score of the game, a six-yard touchdown pass from Fleming to Dwayne Harvey with 13 seconds left in the game.

The victory was the sixth in a row for Bethune-Cookman and the first for Jenkins as coach of the Wildcats.

“This is a great win,” Jenkins said. “This is one of the best groups of young men I’ve been associated with. “We’ve worked them as hard as we can and trained them as hard as we can.”

TOP GAMES

Alabama A&M 17, Prairie View 15: The Bulldogs rode the back of running back Kaderius Lacey to a road victory and berth in the SWAC Championship Game. Lacey ran for 163 yards on 38 carries as Alabama A&M (8-3, 7-2 SWAC) captured the top spot in the SWAC East. Lacey’s performance gives him 1,057 yards, 66 yards shy of breaking the school single-season record set by Ulysses Banks in 2009. Alabama A&M took a 17-2 lead into the fourth quarter and held on for the victory and the fifth division championship for Coach Anthony Jones in 10 seasons at the Bulldogs’ helm. The loss for Prairie View, coupled with Arkansas-Pine Bluff’s 42-14 victory over Texas Southern, eliminated the Panthers from the SWAC West race. Grambling State can win the division with a victory against Southern in the Bayou Classic Saturday. A loss for the G-Men would create a four-way tie among Grambling, Prairie View, Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Southern.  Arkansas-Pine Bluff would win the tie-breaker by virtue of its 2-1 record against the other three.

Jackson State 51, Alcorn State 7: Jackson State quarterback Casey Therriault, playing his final game for the Tigers, ended his career in record-setting style in the Capital City Classic in Jackson, Miss. Therriault threw for 539 yards and four touchdowns while completing 32 of 44 attempts to become Jackson State’s single-season leader for completions (372), passing yards (3,808) and total offense. The game might also have been Rick Comegy’s last as coach at Jackson State (9-2, 7-2). Comegy is in the final year of his contract, and there has been widespread speculation that Jackson State won’t give him a new deal after deciding not to extend his pact.

North Greenville 63, Albany State 14: The Golden Rams were victimized by record-setting performance by North Greenville in their first-round loss in the Division II playoffs. The Crusaders’ point total was the highest in school history as they posted the first playoff victory in school history. North Greenville (10-2) led 35-0 before Cedric Porter returned a kickoff 75 yards for a touchdown with 12 seconds left in the first half for Albany State (8-4).

California (Pa.) 44, Elizabeth City State 0: The Vulcans held the Vikings to 197 yards total offense – including a season-low 67 for running back Daronte McNeill – en route to first-round victory in the Division II playoffs. McNeill entered the game with 1,580 yards, sixth-best in Division II, and 22 touchdowns. It was the first shutout of the season for the Vulcans (10-2). Elizabeth City (8-4), No. 9 in Division II in turnover margin at +13, committed four turnovers and had just one take away.

OTHER GAMES

Arkansas-Pine Bluff 42, Texas Southern 6

Delaware State 39, Howard 36

Hampton 42, Morgan State 18

Jacksonville State 38, Tennessee State 16

NC A&T 31, North Carolina Central 21

South Carolina State 20, Savannah State 10

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