The trampling Bethune-Cookman — Saturday’s FIU opponent in the season opener for both — dished out to the Panthers last season doesn’t come close to being the biggest win in the football program’s history.
Please. You can’t mention it with the 1952 Homecoming win against Florida A&M, a triumph sandwiched on either side by decades of losses to FAMU. Conference titles freckle Bethune-Cookman’s 91-year football history.
But, for the first time since Bethune-Cookman began competing as a Football Championship Subdivision school, the Wildcats beat a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent. After the 34-13 win, Bethune-Cookman head coach Brian Jenkins walked toward the Wildcats’ marching band at FIU Stadium’s west end with arms open. He seemed to be basking in the celebratory noise of a band and crowd that came as strong as the football team did on the field.
“Most of all, it made others take note that our program and conference has progressed at a tremendous pace,” said Jenkins, who applied for the FIU head coaching job in December 2012. “To line up against FIU, which is bigger in every way, and be blessed enough to win tells you the quality of coaching and playing that’s taking place in the [Mid-Eastern Athletic] conference.
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“Also, it probably gave us confidence we can line up and play with anyone, as long as we play with discipline.”
Bethune-Cookman eventually went 10-2 in the regular season, losing only to FBS national champion Florida State 54-6 and Norfolk State 27-24. Coastal Carolina dumped Bethune-Cookman in the first round of the FCS playoffs, 48-24.
Jenkins insists fifth-year senior quarterback Quentin Williams, who ran for 69 yards on 13 carries against FIU last year, doesn’t have his starting job locked up. Nor do senior running backs Anthony Jordan (150 rushing yards vs. FIU) or Cary White (69 yards on only eight carries against FIU).
“People think I’m just doing coaches-talk when I say we’ve got a couple of guys who can play for us [at those positions],” he said.
That kind of depth and an experienced offensive line impressed FCS poll voters enough to put Bethune-Cookman at No. 22 in the preseason poll and slot them as the MEAC favorite.
Last year’s game turned into a business boon for both teams. FIU paid Bethune-Cookman $350,000 to come down and deliver the beatdown. According to FIU’s 2013 audited attendance report, Bethune-Cookman fans bought 844 single-game tickets, the most of any 2013 visiting opponent. The overall individual game ticket sales of 2,634 were second only to the East Carolina game’s 3,103.
But while the East Carolina ticket sales, boosted by a mysteriously high 2,392 internal sales, weren’t reflected in the stands, Bethune-Cookman brought bodies. And the band.
“We always get that type of energy and support, wherever we go,” Jenkins said. “Of course, it’s a little bit extra in an area where we have a number of players from. It’s a tremendous feeling when you have the fan support we have.”
• The cancellation of this weekend’s Epic Festival at the Miami-Dade County Fair & Exposition Center should open up the usual parking and tailgate space at Tamiami Park for FIU fans coming to Saturday’s 7 p.m. season opener against Bethune-Cookman. The original plans had tailgating confined to Lot 6, east of FIU Stadium.