To hear the Bethune-Cookman players talk about their big win over arch rival Florida A&M after Saturday's Florida Classic, you'd think there was nothing to it.
"Easy as pie," is how B-CU running back and Classic MVP Isidore Jackson summed up one play, but that was kind of the overall aura afterward. The celebration was somewhat muted following a fairly business-like 21-16 victory.
Sure, the 9-2 Wildcats were happy about the win, which gave them the undisputed MEAC title. It also was the first time B-CU posted an 8-0 conference record in 28 years.
But there wasn't a lingering party on the Citrus Bowl field, like Classic games are accustomed to having. Within minutes of the trophy presentations and accompanying hoopla following the game, the field was nearly clear of all team personnel.
It seemed something was missing; something more than the FAMU band.
But this is what Bethune-Cookman head coach Brian Jenkins preaches to his players. They are expected to go out and win games, take care of business.
Jackson didn't exactly tear up the field Saturday, and he kind of brushed off the fact that he won game MVP. What he did in bursts at opportune moments, however, was exactly what the Wildcats needed.
"All I did was I went out, and I did what I was supposed to," said Jackson, who ended up with 77 yards on 13 carries and added 41 more yards on 3 receptions. "My offensive line blocked great for me, and I did exactly what a running back is supposed to do.
"I didn't know I was going to win [MVP.] I only had 77 yards. What is that? That's nothing, really."
Jenkins called Jackson's number on a key fourth-and-3 play in the third quarter and the 5-foot-9, 190-pound junior answered, taking advantage of a block on the outside by receiver Eddie Poole to run untouched for a 41-yard touchdown that gave BC-U its first lead of the game at 14-10.
Jenkins didn't hesitate on the fourth-down call and Jackson said the outcome was not surprising.
"We [had] seen that they only had one man out there and the safety was in the box," Jackson said. "That's one of our best plays and he called it. . . . Eddie Poole with a great block on the outside and it was just easy as pie."
Jenkins did not hesitate on another fourth-down play at the FAMU nine-yard line in the fourth quarter, and that, too, paid off, with Andronicus Lovett taking two plays to get into the endzone for what proved to be the deciding margin.
"I didn't consider kicking it at all," Jenkins said of the fourth-down play to Lovett. "I knew that we could get it. We practice that type of situation all year. ... I had total confidence in Lovett running the ball and our offense ... they wouldn't let me make the call to go for the field goal.
"They wanted to go for it and when your team is biting at the bit like that and they got confidence in themselves, you got to have confidence in them as a head coach."
B-CU also had a nice performance from quarterback Quentin Williams, who will be facing off with fellow quarterback Damien Fleming of FAMU for a few more years. Williams, a redshirt freshman, directed the Wildcats with 86 rushing yards and another for 120 yards on 12-of-18 passing, including a first-half, 1-yard touchdown pass to Poole.
"This is more about the team than what I did out here," Williams said. "We just executed the game plan and that's pretty much all it was I love my team and we did it together as one."
One person he did single out was Jackson, the MEAC's leading rusher heading into the contest. Jackson needed 85 coming in to get to 1,000 yards rushing on the season, falling just eight yards shy.
"That's Big Fresh, man . . . I love that boy to death," Williams said of Jackson. "That's a great player right there."
Fleming also had decent numbers, passing for 166 yards and a 37-yard touchdown pass to Dwayne Harvey that got FAMU within striking distance with 8:04 reaming. He completed 18-of-23 passes.
FAMU flirted with the upset, leading B-CU 10-7 at the half and cutting the Wildcats' lead to 21-16 late.
The B-CU defense had given Fleming fits for much of the game, but the sophomore quarterback was able to keep plays alive long enough with his feet to do some damage in the air.
"You can't finish the play on a great player all the time and once again, he's proven that," Jenkins said of Fleming. "Anybody who feels like they can come in and just shut [down] Damien Fleming, I want to see them. I want them to coach me to tell me how to do it.
"We knew that young man was going to present a problem. We just wanted to limit his big plays."
Big plays like on the TD pass to Harvey.
The Wildcats defensive backs gave Fleming nothing with blanket coverage, but it's difficult to hold contain for that long when the quarterback is dancing around in the backfield. Fleming was able to eventually find Harvey despite a swarming rush that was chasing him toward the sideline.
"They were able to get under some routes we were looking for," Fleming said of some of the B-CU coverage. "We hit on some plays, but some other plays we missed on and that kind of made a difference."
And with the opportunity late, the Rattlers couldn't get anything going. The B-CU defense forced FAMU backward with a pair of tackles-for-loss by Sanford Sminole product Jarkevis Fields and eventually caused the lone turnover of the game when Fleming fumbled and B-CU's Tevin Toney recovered with 1:17 remaining.
"When you have a play there you have to make it in this type of game," Fleming added.
B-CU made the plays and the Wildcats held on to ruin FAMU interim coach Earl Holmes' first Classic game as a head coach. Holmes stepped in for Joe Taylor following his retirement 10 days ago.
"You can't get too high with the highs and can't get too low with the lows," said Holmes, who would like to see the interim label dropped from his title and to take over as FAMU's new head coach. "You know, it's about the kids. It's not about me. My whole deal is making sure that I get these kids what they deserve. We gave ourselves an opportunity to win today, but we just came up short."
B-CU is the MEAC's automatic qualifier into the NCAA Football Championship Series playoffs and will find out its playoff opponent and location on Sunday. The selection show is at 1:30 p.m., on ESPNU.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times