Saturday's 23rd annual Florida Classic doesn't get any bigger, or better, than this:
Win, and move on. Lose, and go home.
The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference's automatic berth in the Division I-AA playoffs is at stake when Bethune-Cookman and Florida A&M meet at the overflowing Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando.
B-CC has clinched a share of the MEAC title thanks to Saturday's 46-27 conference victory over Howard, but Florida A&M, which had the weekend off, wins a share of the MEAC and earns the playoff berth with a win in the Florida Classic.
B-CC is 10-1, 6-1 in the MEAC; FAMU is 7-4, 5-2, and would win the head-to-head tiebreaker if it wins Saturday. Hampton could force a three-way tie for the MEAC crown but is out of the playoff race because it lost to the Rattlers.
A win Saturday would giveFAMU a third consecutive MEAC title and ninth straight trip to the I-AA playoffs.
BACK IN IT: That 46-27 win over Howard was the break B-CC needed after two big losses this season. The first was losing quarterback Allen Suber to a sprained right foot in a Nov. 2 win over North Carolina A&T; the second was when the Suber-less Wildcats fell 37-7 to Hampton the next week.
But B-CC is back in control.
A safety got things going for the Wildcats against Howard. A snap went through the hands of punter Vaughn Waters and out of the end zone. Then, Cal State Northridge junior transfer quarterback Scot Austin found free safety Rashean Mathis, playing on offense, for a 32-yard touchdown to put B-CC up 22-13 at the half.
Austin was 7-for-10 for 163 yards and also threw a 70-yard touchdown to Erik Lash. He shared quarterback duties with Lawrence McCloud, who provided the Wyattbone option attack with the spark it needed. Together with backs Lamont Finnie, Brad Lee and Rodney Johnson, the quartet rushed 40 times for 269 yards, and McCloud found the end zone three times.
"We got so used to Allen being back there," coach Alvin Wyatt told the Daytona Beach News-Journal. "We finally decided to support this kid, McCloud, and bring him back to where he was in the spring (when he was the backup QB). Boy did he look great. We saw what the Wyattbone can do for you when you have a triggerman (Austin) back there, too."
B-CC won its 10th of the season, tying the school record. B-CC last won 10 in 1947 (10-2).
"I've got chills right now," Mathis, who set a Division I-AA record with 13 interceptions, told the News-Journal. "This is what I came back for. Everybody thought I was leaving, but in the back of my mind I knew I had something to prove and this team had something to prove. This is the best team we've had since I've been here, and I couldn't leave them hanging out to dry."
IT TAKES TWO: To defeat Kent State 32-6 Saturday and reach .500 for the first time this season, Central Florida relied on two facets that had performed poorly: defense and the running attack.
Tailback Alex Haynes rushed for a career-high 149 yards and a touchdown, leading a Golden Knights offense that ground up 246 total yards.
The Knights (5-5) held the Golden Flashes to no touchdowns, 83 rushing yards (this from a unit that went in averaging 242.6) and 141 total yards. The defense also forced seven fumbles, recovering three, and had two interceptions.
"The front stepped up today," defensive end Elton Patterson told the Orlando Sentinel. "This is the defense we said we wanted to play all year: deny every aspect of the offense. It gives us a chance to finish strong."
_ Information from other news organizations was used in this report.