The Bethune-Cookman Wildcats needed a “closer” last season as two blown fourth-quarter leads prevented what would’ve been an undefeated season within the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
As it stood, the Wildcats finished 2017 with a 7-4 overall record and a 6-2 mark in the MEAC after losing 26-24 at Howard and 24-20 at league champion North Carolina Central.
In the Howard game, the Wildcats allowed the winning touchdown with just 39 seconds left as Caylin Newton — Cam’s little brother — ran 5 yards for the winning score.
Against North Carolina Central, the Wildcats led 20-14 lead after three quarters and had a chance to win at the end but had a pass batted away in the end zone on the game’s final play.
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This year, which will be the fourth under coach Terry Sims, the Wildcats are hoping to improve from second place to first in the league while extending their dominance over rival Florida A&M to eight straight years.
However, it’s possible the Wildcats could take a step back. They are picked to finish just fourth in the league, and the reason is the talent they lost from last season.
Quarterback Larry Brihm completed 62.2 percent of his passes last season, producing a 12-4 touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio. He is now playing in the Canadian Football League.
Wide receiver Jawill Davis signed as an undrafted free agent with the New York Giants, and offensive lineman Phillip Norman is also in the CFL.
Among the returners, just five of them were picked to finish first-, second- or third-team All-MEAC this preseason, which is half as many as FAMU.
Former Homestead High kicker Uriel Hernandez is one of two Wildcats players on that first team, joining senior offensive lineman Dwayne Brown.
Hernandez led the team with 60 points, making 12-of-18 field goals and 24-of-26 extra points. Brown started all 11 games and rarely came out, grading out at 92 percent.
However, Brown is the Wildcats’ only returning starter on the offensive line, and that could be a problem for junior running back Tupac Isme.
Last season, Wildcats running backs averaged just 3.7 yards per rush. Their opponents, meanwhile, averaged 5.6.
Another issue was that the Wildcats were outscored 41-7 off of turnovers.
This season, the strength of the defense will be the line, where second-team All-MEAC end Todney Evans returns. The redshirt senior and Middle Tennessee State transfer led the Wildcats with 8.5 tackles for losses last year.
Defensive tackle Kevin Thompson, who is also a redshirt senior, made the MEAC third team this preseason despite missing most of last year due to injury.
The schedule features a September 15 trip to Conference USA favorite Florida Atlantic. On Sept. 22, the Wildcats will get a shot at revenge against Howard in their MEAC opener in Indianapolis.
Also of note are the final two games on the schedule as the Wildcats get reigning league champion North Carolina Central in Daytona Beach on Nov. 10 and then play rival FAMU on Nov. 17 in Orlando.
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