The critical part of Florida A&M's game plan was simple enough _ show up. Talent and time did the rest. The Rattlers' opponent, Morgan State, self-destructed early and often. FAMU (5-3, 4-0) couldn't help but dominate the 58th Orange Blossom Classic for 31-15 victory over the winless Bears (0-5, 0-9) at the Orange Bowl on Saturday.
"It was ugly, yeah, but it was a win," said FAMU coach Ken Riley. "Morgan State's struggling right now and we just wanted to make sure that we didn't let a game that we should win slip away from us."
FAMU, which remained unbeaten in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, wasted no time establishing who was the boss. A 20-yard run by Rattlers fullback Amir Rasul's and a 15-yard personal-foul call against the Bears keyed FAMU's first drive. The Rattlers took a 3-0 lead on Jimmy Vertuno's 27-yard field goal when the drive bogged down.
Morgan State's best hope to make a game of it died on the ensuing kickoff when Robert Johnson was run down from behind after a 51-yard kick return at the FAMU 32. The Bears then ran three plays before attempting a 47-yard field goal that fell short.
FAMU pounded away at Morgan State's defense, but couldn't convert its dominance into points. However, the Rattlers' special teams provided the big play. Jacob Stacy Turnipseed rushed uncontested up the middle to block Bears punter Roberto Schmidl's kick with three minutes left in the first quarter. Rasul gained 21 yards on FAMU's next play to the Bears' 1. Jonathan Jones finished the job by diving over for the score a play later.
Morgan State committed the first of its three first-half turnovers on its next series. David Partin's pass for Sean Nelson was intercepted by Edwin Carter at the Bears' 43.
FAMU quarterback Tony Ezell set a school record for touchdown passes in a career (32) on the Rattlers' next play. Morgan State cornerback Horace Minnifield slipped, allowing James Thurman to catch Ezell's pass and walk in from 3 yards out for a 17-0 lead with 1:44 left in the first quarter.
"It was important for us to get the points early and take control," said Ezell. "We didn't want them to think they had a chance."
FAMU padded its lead with two second-quarter touchdowns while the defense held Morgan State in check. The Bears, who rank last in rushing in Division I-AA, gained a minus-9 yards on the ground in the first half.
GREENSBORO, N.C. _ Bethune-Cookman made a fourth-quarter bid to upset nationally ranked North Carolina A&T, but two touchdowns in the last 11 minutes weren't enough to spoil Homecoming for the Aggies, who held on for a 27-20 win.
B-CC quarterback J.D. Hall passed for one score and rushed for another in the B-CC rally.
With 2:18 left in the game, the Wildcats attempted an onside kick. They recovered, but hadn't allowed the ball to travel the required 10 yards. The 20th-ranked Aggies (7-1, 3-1) took over and ran out the clock.
The loss was the sixth in a row for the Wildcats (2-6, 1-4), who need a win against Elizabeth City State next week to keep from tying the school's longest-ever losing streak. The Aggies' only loss came against Florida A&M.
"I'm proud of the way my guys came back," said B-CC coach Larry Little.
Central Florida 49,
Southern Illinois 14
ORLANDO _ Former Northside Christian star Ron Johnson came off the bench in the middle of the first quarter and led Central Florida (5-3) to a 49-14 romp over Southern Illinois (2-7).
The junior quarterback, who was 8-of-13 for 168 yards, threw touchdown passes to four different receivers _ Bret Cooper, Shawn Jefferson, Mike Dickinson and Sean Beckton.
_ Times correspondents Sean Kernan and Neil LaBar contributed to this report.