In the 75th overall meeting between Bethune-Cookman and Florida A&M universities in Orlando, the game was an instant classic that went down to the final minutes.
A lot was at stake. With a chance to end the football season on a 10 game winning streak and a chance to go undefeated in the Mideastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) for the first time since 1996, the No. 13 ranked Florida A&M University Rattlers (9-2 Overall; 7-1 MEAC) failed to deliver yet again in the Florida Classic for the ninth year in a row. The Bethune-Cookman University Wildcats (7-4 Overall; 4-3 MEAC) defeated FAMU 31–27 in the 40th anniversary edition of the Florida Blue Florida Classic.
With 2:14 seconds left in the game, Bethune-Cookman’s linebacker Devin James intercepted a pass from FAMU’s quarterback Ryan Stanley at the Bethune Cookman 47-yard line, sealing the victory for the Wildcats. Stanley had the chance for a career-defining moment to lead the Rattlers to a come-from-behind victory as they took their first lead in the game with 11 minutes to go in regulation. Stanley is FAMU’s all-time career leader in completions, passing yards and touchdowns but, for the third year in a row, the senior quarterback threw an interception to seal the game and a loss in the Florida Classic.
Bethune-Cookman tied a season high with 467 total offensive yards. Senior quarterback Akevious Williams finished with 269 passing yards on 22 completions and 35 passing attempts with one touchdown, and also added 21 yards and a touchdown rushing. Sophomore running back Isaac Washington ran the ball 12 times for 104 yards and a touchdown, and sophomore wide receiver Marcus Riley caught seven passes for 98 yards to lead all receivers in the game.
On the FAMU sideline, senior quarterback Ryan Stanley finished the game with 19 completions on 32 passing attempts with 213 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. Sophomore wide receiver Xavier Smith had 7 catches for 86 yards. Smith finished the season with 159 receiving yards.
Coach Terry Sims of Bethune-Cookman is now 5-0 in the Florida Classic. After the game, he stated: “I’m proud of what my guys have done because they worked all year and something good happened for them. It was great to see them come together as a team today and how they played.”
Bethune-Cookman’s wide receiver Jonathon Thomas was on double duty - along with his receiver duties he was also responsible for handling the Wildcats’ kicking needs as the kicker No. 45 Xavier McDonald had a kicking leg injury.
Now on a nine-game winning streak in the Florida Classic, Sims was asked what the current streak means to him personally: “Another great year, and another great year of bragging rights,” he said.
Florida A&M head coach Willie Simmons said of the loss on Saturday: “It definitely hurts; the immediate impact of it hurts. But once tomorrow comes and the sun shines again, we’ll look back and reflect and we’ll realize that we’ve done some great things this year and these guys have really done a phenomenal job. And I think that’s understated as to what they have been able to accomplish and the pride, the excitement that they brought back to Rattler Nation.”
On Saturday before the game at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress hotel, Florida A&M University President Larry Robinson introduced Kortne Gosha as the new vice president and director of FAMU Athletics during the Future of FAMU Athletics Fundraising Breakfast, hosted by the FAMU National Alumni Association.
This year, 55,730 fans filled the stands. Florida A&M continues to lead the overall series against Bethune Cookman 49–24–1.
Importance of the Florida Blue Florida Classic
Many football games define Black college football: the Bayou Classic (Grambling State University v. Southern University), Chicago Football Classic (Hampton University v. Howard University), Magic City Classic (Alabama A&M University and Alabama State University), Turkey Day Classic (Alabama State University v. Tuskegee University), Tuskegee Morehouse Classic (Tuskegee University v. Morehouse College) and the Orange Blossom Classic, which will be returning to Miami Gardens in 2020 featuring (Florida A&M University v. Albany State University).
However, one of the most well-known annual classic games that define Black college football has to be the Florida Classic. Now deemed the Florida Blue Florida Classic, it is the annual college football rivalry game between the Wildcats of Bethune–Cookman and the Rattlers of Florida A&M at the Camping World Stadium in Orlando. The Florida Blue Florida Classic is more than just a game. For alumni of both schools, the event is a way to reunite with former college friends and even family.
Of course, while halftime is a treat for spectators, the famous Battle of the Bands, which was held on Friday night at the Amway Center, gave fans special performances from both high school and college bands. The schools that participated in The Battle of the Bands were the Miami Northwestern Mighty Marching Bulls, Atlantic High School Marching Band, Bahamas All Star Band, Miller Grove High School Band, Minor High School Marching Band, Palm Beach Lakes High School Marching Band, Pebblebrook High school Marching Band, Piper High School Marching Band and Westlake High School.
The event climaxed with the appearance of the marching bands from the crowning jewels of The Classic – the often imitated but never duplicated Florida A&M Marching 100 Band and Bethune-Cookman Marching Wildcats.
Tony Jenkins, Orlando’s top area executive for Florida Blue is an important part of why the Florida Classic is still around. Florida Blue has also changed the lives of many underprivileged students by providing scholarships to some who otherwise may not have been able to attend college. “After Disney was no longer sponsoring the Florida Classic, we were excited to put our name in the hat as title sponsor,” Jenkins stated.
“The Florida Blue Florida Classic is an incredibly important event for the Central Florida community, and we’re thrilled to be able to extend these sponsoring partnerships,” stated Florida Citrus Sports CEO Steve Hogan.
Over the years, The Florida Classic struggled to be welcomed in another city. However, Orlando welcomed the event with open arms. Since the relocation of the game from Tampa to Orlando, the attendance has increased 47.2 percent and has ab out a $31 million impact on the city’s economy. The Florida Classic is the largest MEAC conference football game and the largest Division I FCS football game in Florida.