ATLANTA – That flexible and opportunistic Bethune-Cookman defense rejuvenated what had been a listless MEAC/SWAC Challenge effort by scoring two touchdowns and setting up another in the second half as the Wildcats rallied for a 36-15 victory over Jackson State Sunday before a Georgia State Stadium crowd of 23,333 and a national ESPN 2 audience.
Trevor Merritt and Sam Marc registered the touchdowns, while Devuntry Hampton’s interception set up the go-ahead touchdown as Bethune-Cookman erased a 9-0 deficit, then finished with the game’s final 29 points.
The victory gave Terry Sims his first in a season-opener in his five years as Head Coach, and BCU’s 36 points were its highest opening day output since a 38-28 in the 2012 MEAC/SWAC Challenge against Alabama State.
Jackson State could manage only a 3-0 halftime lead, but took a 9-0 lead on Jordan Johnson’s eight-yard run at the start of the third quarter.
Merritt’s 50-yard pick six cut the deficit to 9-7 three minutes and gave life to the Wildcats.
Yes, the Tigers answered with a 33-yard Warren Newman pass from Jalon Jones, but BCU’s offense came to live with a 57-yard drive of its own after a penalty on the JSU mascot and Jimmie Robinson’s kickoff return put the Wildcats in solid field position. Akevious Williams capped off the drive with a 20-yard run that closed it to 15-14 with 4:09 left in the third.
Hampton, burned for a long play on the game’s first possession, redeemed himself with a 50-yard pick that set the ball on the JSU. Three plays later, Williams connected with Taron Mallard and Robinson scored on the two-point conversion with 2:33 left for a 22-15 lead.
A five-play drive aided by a JSU penalty and Williams’ 23-yarder to Darryl Powell, Jr. produced a 5-yard LaDerrien Wilson score with 11:16 left.
JSU put together a scoring threat, but it quickly turned the other way when Sam Marc scooped up a fumbled and went 96 yards the other way to put BCU ahead by 21.
BCU’s defense gave up 506 total yards, but won the turnover battle 4-0.
Williams, making his first start since a season-injury ended to North Carolina A&T last year, finished 16 of 29 for 144 passing while rushing for 53 yards.
Isaac Washington rushed for 61 yards on nine carries, while Robinson caught five passes for 37 yards and Mallard four for 60. Rashon McNeil paced the defensive with 8.5 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble.