ORLANDO — Joe Taylor was hired 11 months ago away from Hampton to inject some life into a Florida A&M program that had struggled for consistency in recent years, going only 4-4 against archrival Bethune-Cookman this decade and winning just three games in 2007.
To say the least, the man has delivered.
Saturday afternoon at the Florida Citrus Bowl, Taylor's squad put an exclamation point on a solid regular season by crushing Bethune-Cookman 58-35 in the Florida Classic before an announced crowd of 60,712.
By doing so, the Rattlers (9-3, 5-3 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference) completed their best regular season in eight years and in the process might have earned their way into the Division I-AA playoffs (more on that later).
"We did what we needed to do," Taylor said matter-of-factly.
Simply put, this was a Rattler rout.
FAMU beat B-CU (8-3, 5-3) in every phase. The Rattlers rushed for 343 yards and totaled 455. The defense forced seven turnovers, and the special teams contributed an 83-yard kickoff return from Tampa's LeRoy Vann, a Blake High graduate.
"We came out ready to play," FAMU quarterback Curtis Pulley said.
The Rattlers' points were their most against B-CU since 63 in a 1999 win. By the time it was over, the stands were three-fourths empty, and for the most part, only those wearing orange and green remained. Those who stayed until the end surely had to be inspired by the words Taylor spoke as he addressed the crowd.
"We're just getting started," he told them. "The dynasty is on the way."
FAMU was the better team from the start. After taking the opening kickoff, the Rattlers went 42 yards and went ahead 3-0 on Trevor Scott's 37-yard field goal.
A little more than seven minutes later, it was 10-0 after the first of two Philip Sylvester touchdown runs.
While FAMU flourished early, B-CU foundered.
On the Wildcats' first six possessions, they missed a field goal, fumbled, punted, threw an interception, fumbled again and punted. As if not scoring was bad enough, B-CU continually gave FAMU's offense good starting field position.
"We didn't have many long drives," Pulley said.
It might not have mattered even if FAMU did.
Behind Pulley (125 yards passing with two touchdowns, 171 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries), FAMU at times moved the ball at will. The Rattlers scored five of the first seven times they had the ball and didn't punt until midway through the fourth quarter.
After falling behind 31-0, B-CU rallied. Or tried to anyway.
Quarterback McKinson Souverain had two touchdown runs in the second quarter (one after a FAMU fumble) to bring B-CU to within 31-13. But only 12 seconds after Souverain's second score, Vann's electrifying kickoff return put the Rattlers ahead by 25.
And from there, the outcome never seemed to be in doubt.
The question now is this: Will Saturday's effort be enough for the Rattlers, who tied for second in the MEAC with B-CU, Delaware and Hampton, to earn an at-large spot in the upcoming 16-team I-AA playoffs? (They'll find out today.)
"We are still thinking that we've got an outside chance to get into the playoffs," Taylor said. "In multiple years, they have taken at least two representatives from the MEAC. They're always looking at the way you're playing down the stretch.
"It'll be a travesty if we're not still playing."