After a lackluster first half that featured a combined six punts, conversions on just three of 15 combined third downs and two Florida A&M drives that resulted in field goals after they stalled inside the 10, the loudest cheers through the first two hours of Saturday’s Florida Blue Florida Classic came during halftime as the world-famous FAMU Marching 100 band entertained the crowd of 52,142 at Camping World Stadium.
Bethune-Cookman University found a way to capture the cheers for itself in the second half.
Wildcats back Tupac Isme broke through a scrum at the 1-yard line and ran untouched outside the left hash lines for a Florida Classic-record 99-yard touchdown just 2:17 into the second half, and Bethune-Cookman kept the raucous crowd going by stopping FAMU’s ensuing drive inside the 10. The three-minute span erased a six-point halftime deficit and keyed the Wildcats’ 33-19 victory.
“You can’t beat a good football team with missed opportunities like that,” Rattlers coach Willie Simmons said of his team’s futility near the goal line. “We got down inside the red zone a couple of times and came away with nothing.”
The game culminated a three-day celebration, which began Thursday with the Florida Classic Night of Distinction and continued Friday with a job fair, luncheon and Florida Blue Battle of the Bands. Dubbed a “family reunion” by organizers, the Florida Classic replaced the long-running Bayou Classic in Louisiana as the nation’s most-attended football game between two historically black colleges and universities, fewer than 10,000 fans shy of two million since the game’s inception in 1978.
“I think it was a great showcase for the [historically black colleges and universities] culture,” Bethune-Cookman coach Terry Sims said.
Traffic delays did little to quiet the pre-game hoopla, as fans from both teams interacted among various barbecue and tailgating festivities.
With ESPN’s College GameDay broadcasting from UCF and with LeBron James’ Los Angeles Lakers visiting the nearby Amway Center to take on the Magic, the two schools did their best to capture their share of the spotlight.
“The Classic in itself, there’s a lot of rich tradition, a lot of great history with this Classic, two great universities being represented,” Sims said. “It’s always a great family reunion. You have a lot of families that have a lot of Wildcats and a lot of Rattlers in the same household. It’s just great to come back and have this family reunion. . . . It’s a great college football atmosphere, a great stage for these guys to be able to play on and put their talents to work.”
The Rattlers sought to draw their own attention in the third quarter with a 9-yard scoring strike from Ryan Stanley to Dominique Walker for a 19-17 lead. The ensuing PAT attempt by Yahia Aly was blocked, and Vernon Walker III scooped up the loose ball and raced down the right sideline to tie the score at 19.
“That play really gave us a lot of momentum,” Sims said. “The guy that converted the two-point play, he’s the guy who got beat for the touchdown.”
Bethune-Cookman (7-5, 5-2 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference) scored the winner early in the fourth quarter. After a 44-yard pass from West Virginia transfer David Israel to Malique Jackson to the FAMU 4, reserve quarterback Jabari Dunhan faked a handoff and raced around the left end for the score.
Florida A&M (6-5, 5-2) reached the Wildcat 11 in the final minute, but Tydarius Peters intercepted Stanley’s pass and raced 90 yards down the left sideline for the final score to extend Bethune-Cookman’s winning streak to eight games in the series.