There has officially been a power shift in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
Over the last four years, 14th ranked (SportsNetwork) Bethune-Cookman has been staking its claim as the best team in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and has done so with relative ease by beating the majority of their conference foes in dominating fashion. The one team standing in their way of achieving that acclaim was South Carolina State, winners of the previous three conference crowns from 2007-2010. Although the Cats enjoyed a 2-1 lead over the Bulldogs in the Brian Jenkins era, many were not ready to say B-CU had surpassed SCSU as the MEAC’s elite.
Saturday, behind a dominating performance from their fifth-ranked defense (FCS) and a great first half from quarterback Quentin Williams, the Wildcats were able to defeat the Bulldogs before a homecoming capacity crowd of 10,421 at Municipal Stadium. The win not only gave them sole possession of first place in the league with four weeks remaining in the regular season, but also helped to silence many of the critics about who’s the class of the conference.
“People have to stop and take notice of our players and the way they played, head coach Brian Jenkins said. Pough has ruled the conference for a very long time and now the new kids have come up and challenged that. But Buddy’s relentless and he’s gonna fight to make sure his team stays at the top.”
The Wildcats defense, led by junior linebacker Jarkevis Fields (14 total tackles, 1 FF), frustrated the SCSU offense and caused three turnovers, all of which prevented Bulldog scores. In addition, the Cats held the top scoring offense in the conference to just three points, 143 yards of total offense, and kept them out of the endzone for the first time since they accomplished the same feat against the Bulldogs in 2010 in a 14-0 win.
“Our coaches kept telling us about these great runningbacks they had, Fields said. We felt a little disrespected and just took it as a challenge. We used the scout team as the guys we were gonna face, so when we came out to play, we just went at their heads and played Wildcat football.”
Not to be overshadowed, the offense was very efficient and switched the gameplan somewhat for their matchup against the Bulldogs, coming out attacking through the air, rather than on the ground as they had done for the majority of the season. Quentin Williams led the Wildcat offensive attack to over 300 yards of total offense, 220 of which came through the air. Head coach Brian Jenkins attributed it to taking what the defense gave.
“We can throw the ball, said Jenkins. If you look at it, we threw for over 220 yards against the top defense in the conference. If that’s not convincing enough (that we can beat you through the air) then I don’t know what will be.”
For South Carolina State (5-3, 3-1), the game was a humbling loss, one where head coach Buddy Pough saw his team dominated on both sides of the ball and commit three turnovers at the most inopportune moments. Leading the Bulldogs was linebacker Joe Thomas, who finished with 16 tackles, two tackles for losses, and a sack. SCSU will look to regroup next week as it faces Savannah State, but knows that this game was the one circled on everyone’s calendar.
After the game, Pough all but admitted that the torch may have been passed.
“They’ve put together a great program, Pough said. They’ve got great facilities, great following and one of the most fertile recruiting grounds in the country. I don’t see anybody else in our league beating them at this point. We had our chance and we didn’t quite get it done.”
The Cats now turn their attention to North Carolina Central as they travel to Durham, NC to take on the Eagles next week. NCCU is coming off a 24-10 victory over Savannah State where they spoiled the Tigers’ homecoming. Game time is set for noon.