Bethune-Cookman and Florida A&M look forward to Florida Classic


Florida A&M and Bethune-Cookman haven't been powerhouses in the MEAC. The Rattlers (3-7 overall, 2-6 league) and Wildcats (4-6 overall, 2-6 league) have struggled throughout the season.

In spite of the records, these two long-time rivals will play on Saturday afternoon like it's a championship game when they clash in the 28th annual Florida Classic at the Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando (ESPN Classic, 3 ET).

FAMU has won the last two games. B-CU last won in 2004 in a 58-52 in an overtime game. These two schools have been playing each other dating back to 1925, which happens to be well before the annual classic. FAMU leads the all-time series 45-14-1 overall.

Moreover, the classic is the largest attended game between two historically black colleges in the country. It has drawn more than 1.3 million fans since 1978. A year ago, the contest drew over 70,000 fans for the seventh consecutive year.

"It's been going on for a long time," said Rubin Carter, FAMU head coach. "It's an in state rivalry. I know [B-CU head coach Alvin] Wyatt does a great job of motivating his players.

"Even with the difficult year we have our players are motivated to go out and end this year on a positive note. It will be a knock down drag out fight. That's what it will be. I think everybody looked forward to this game a year ago for it to be played again."

The Rattlers are led by two quarterbacks Leon Camel and Eddie Battle, running backs Phillip Sylvester and Anthony Edwards and wide receiver Willie Hayward. Camel, who was elevated to the starting spot after Albert Chester left the team due to injuries in early October, has recently begun splitting time with freshman Eddie Battle. After five starts, Camel is 51-of-128 passing for 606 yards, three touchdowns and eight interceptions, with 120 yards rushing and two TDs.

However, Battle, who started last week against Hampton, has played in five games, hitting 39-of-67 passes for 480 yards, three TDs and three interceptions.

Sylvester, who missed last week's game with injuries, tops the team in rushing with 785 yards on 144 carries and seven TDs. Edwards, a senior running back, put together back-to-back 100 yard games as the feature back. Hayward has been the Rattlers' big play receiver. He has 32 receptions for 460 yards and four TDs.

B-CU will rely on a stingy defense to slow FAMU down. Defensively, the Wildcats key players are linebacker Ronnie McCullough and safety Bobbie Williams. McCullough has a league-high 137 total tackles (55 solo), 17 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. Williams has 75 total tackles, four tackles for loss and two interceptions.

"McCullough really brings everything to the table," Wyatt said. "Bobbie Williams does the same thing. With those two guys and their leadership, it makes for a great defensive effort every game."

Wyatt believes this contest means a lot to both programs because it's a game that both teams need very badly.

"They've won over the last two years," Wyatt said. "Of course, we had put together three staright wins. Now, they've put together two straight. It's a great opportunity for one of us to have bragging rights in the state of Florida. It helps a lot in the recruiting process. It makes the alumni happy and the boosters happy as well as friends, family and fans. We'll be prepared and I know they'll be prepared to put on a show for a soldout crowd on national TV."

HBCU notes
• Prairie View A&M QB Mark Spivey was named the SWAC Offensive Player of the Week. Spivey completed 8-of-19 passes for 180 yards and four TDs to help the Panthers defeat Jackson State and land its first winning season in 31 years.

• Prairie View A&M LB Zach East was named the SWAC Defensive Player of the Week. East tallied 19 tackles (seven solo), along with one forced fumble, 1.5 tackles for loss and a blocked extra point against Jackson State.

• Senior QB Vashon Winton was selected as the MEAC Offensive Player of the Week. Winton completed 28-of-44 passes for 245 yards and two TDs as he led the Hornets to a seven-point overtime victory, topping Norfolk State to clinch the league title. He also rushed for 66 yards on 18 carries.

• Hampton DE Marcus Dixon and Bethune-Cookman's Ronnie McCullough earned co-Defensive Player of the Week honors. Dixon collected 15 tackles, four solo, with two and a 1/2 tackles for loss in the team's victory over Florida A&M.

Wildcats LB McCullough recorded 15 tackles, 11 solo in a win over Howard. He also added four tackles for a loss of 24 yards and three sacks for a 23-yard loss to his stellar performance.

• Hampton RB Kevin Beverly had a big game against FAMU. Beverly ran for 161 yards on 29 carries with one TD.

• Delaware State offensive tackle Kellen Kemp graded out 98 percent on all assignments as he helped pave the way for 113 total offensive yards in the victory over Norfolk State. He also had two pancake blocks.

• Delaware State will find out who its postseason opponent will be on Sunday when the NCAA announces its Football Championship Subdivision tournament. The Hornets will finish their regular season at home against Howard.

• Alabama State RB Jay Peck had 29 carries for 173 yards and one TD -- the sixth 100-yard game of the season in a victory over Mississippi Valley State. This was the 11th of his career.

• Alabama A&M WR Thomas Harris set a school single-game receiving mark with 201 yards on nine receptions in a win over Alcorn State.

Donald Hunt is a columnist for The Philadelphia Tribune.