By Dan Ryan/BCU Senior Writer-Historian
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.
The Tigers answered with a 33-yard Warren Newman pass from Jalon Jones, but BCU's offense came to life 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 20. 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.