Jenkins Still Seeking the Perfect Ending
by Ken Hornack
Given his reputation as a hard-driven perfectionist, it's highly unlikely that Bethune-Cookman football head coach Brian Jenkins would ever refer to it as a perfect season.
But should Bethune-Cookman defeat Florida A&M on Saturday in the Florida Blue Florida Classic, the Wildcats will go through the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference portion of their schedule without a loss for only the second time in school history.
They have already clinched their third outright MEAC title. A victory over the Rattlers at the Florida Citrus Bowl would mark their eighth win of the season in conference play.
By contrast, the 1984 team coached by Larry Little and led by the passing of Bernard Hawk was the champion of what was only a five-team league - B-CU, Delaware State, South Carolina State, North Carolina A&T and Howard. Morgan State had just joined the MEAC that year and was thus ineligible for any team honors.
And as difficult as it might be for some fans to remember, that was the second of two consecutive years where the Wildcats and Rattlers did not meet on the field because of a dispute over where the game should be held.
In a scenario which would be unimaginable nowadays, B-CU staked its claim to a MEAC title in mid-October with a 24-23 win over South Carolina State. That gave the Wildcats a 3-0 record in league play with one more game remaining, and they had already defeated North Carolina A&T, which was the only MEAC team with one conference loss.
"It took a hell of an effort by the guys," said Little, the future Pro Bowl Hall of Fame inductee who was hired by his alma mater two years earlier. "And they deserved it for the way they worked hard from day one."
Although Hawk established several single-season and career passing records, the Wildcats relied on the run to edge the Bulldogs. King Green rushed for 131 yards and two touchdowns, the last of which came from a yard out with 2:13 remaining. South Carolina State, which had never lost to B-CU since the two schools joined the MEAC, was short on a 50-yard field-goal attempt in the final minute.
The Wildcats capped their undefeated conference season a week later with a 23-15 victory at Delaware State. They still had two games left, non-conference matchups against Tennessee State and Morris Brown.
Hawk passed for 2,772 yards and 21 touchdowns that season. His favorite receiver, Leon Gonzalez, was drafted the following year by the Dallas Cowboys and spent two seasons with them. B-CU's quarterbacks coach, Rick Stockstill, is now the head coach at Middle Tennessee State and has taken the Blue Raiders to three bowl games in six years.
In some respects, the current team is more like B-CU's 2002 squad which went 7-1 in the MEAC to earn a berth in the Division I-AA (now FCS) playoffs. The Wildcats put an exclamation point on their regular season with a 37-10 triumph over Florida A&M, breaking what had been a seven-game losing streak to the Rattlers.
The Wildcats ended up two games ahead of Florida
A&M, Hampton and Morgan State in the final league standings. In 2010, they
had to settle for a three-way share of the conference title after the Rattlers
rallied in the second half for a 38-27 victory.
All-MEAC performers Rashean Mathis, now with the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Steve Baggs led a defense that forced seven turnovers and scored three touchdowns in the win. The biggest of those takeaways might have been a fumble recovery in the third quarter by linebacker Lonnie Estes with B-CU clinging to a 17-10 lead. Lamont Finnie then took an option pitch from backup quarterback Lawrence McCloud and raced 98 yards for the score that broke the game wide open.