Looking Back in Order to Move Forward
By KEN HORNACK
If the fourth time is going to be the charm for Bethune-Cookman in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) playoffs, it may come down to the third quarter.
During the past two seasons, the Wildcats have outscored their opponents by a 199-57 margin in the 15 minutes following halftime. B-CU has been especially stingy this year, allowing a total of only 20 points in the third quarter while finishing with a 9-2 overall record and an unblemished slate in Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference play at 8-0.
But it was that quarter in 2010 which proved to be the Wildcats' downfall against New Hampshire at Municipal Stadium, where Saturday's first-round game against Coastal Carolina will also take place. B-CU fell behind early before getting two touchdown passes in the second quarter from Jackie Wilson, who was thrust into the starting role because of a shoulder injury to Matt Johnson two weeks earlier against Florida A&M. That 14-14 tie didn't lead to greater things, however, as New Hampshire scored 21 unanswered points in the third quarter and rolled to a 45-21 victory.
The loss was the third in as many trips to the FCS playoffs for the Wildcats in school history. Several players from that team continue to figure prominently on this year's squad. Running back Isidore Jackson and wide receiver Eddie Poole both scored on TD receptions against New Hampshire, and Andronicus Lovette - who scored the clinching touchdown last week in B-CU's 21-16 win over Florida A&M in the Florida Blue Florida Classic - was the leading rusher that afternoon with 59 yards.
"When we started this season out everybody counted us out; nowhere in the picture, and we ended up at the top of the conference and one of 16 teams left fighting for the National Championship," coach Brian Jenkins said following the end of his first year in charge of the program. "I think our players have something to hold our heads high about ... It will be great things to come."
Before Jenkins took over, the Wildcats broke into what were then known as the Division I-AA playoffs with back-to-back appearances.
In 2003, they finished in a three-way tie for second place behind North Carolina A&T in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) standings, but earned an at-large berth on the strength of a better overall record than Hampton and South Carolina State. Once there, they staged a furious comeback against Florida Atlantic - which has since moved up to the FBS level - before coming out on the short end of a 32-24 decision.
Eric Weems, the Daytona Beach native who has gone on to play in the NFL for Atlanta and Chicago, caught 11 passes for 124 yards in the game. The Wildcats outgained the Owls 400-316 and recorded six sacks but couldn't overcome six turnovers, as well as 16 penalties which cost them 142 yards.
Once down 27-10, the Wildcats closed to within 27-24 on a 19-yard run by Brad Lee with 7:24 remaining. FAU tacked on a field goal and added a safety on an intentional grounding call in the end zone in the waning seconds.
The Wildcats were the MEAC's only representative in the 2002 playoffs, where they were shut out by Georgia Southern, 34-0. With quarterback Allen Suber slowed by a sprained foot, an offense which averaged 34 points a game during the regular season was severely limited on the road against the Eagles.
Defeating Coastal Carolina would be huge not only for B-CU, but for the MEAC as a whole. The conference has had an automatic berth every year since 1996 but is winless since both North Carolina A&T and Florida A&M were victorious in 1999.