The Bethune-Cookman Wildcats needed a half to regroup against the Jackson State Tigers.

After trailing, 3-0, at halftime, the Wildcats were bewildered by the Tigers’ attack. The offense sputtered and the defense was out of place. The Wildcats also punted on six of their first seven drives.

Wildcats head coach Terry Sims admitted that the first half wasn’t his team’s finest hour. So, he gathered his team in the locker room and offered some encouraging words.

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“We didn’t look like the football team I thought we were in the first half,” Sims said. “I definitely was not pleased with it and I let them know it.”

The motivational tactic worked. The Wildcats scored 36 points in the second-half en route to a, 36-15, victory at the 15th MEAC/SWAC Challenge at Georgia State Stadium.

“We came out in the second half and re-energized ourselves,” Sims said.

The Wildcats’ defense was the catalyst for the turn around. They forced four turnovers in the second half and turned them into points. Senior defensive back Trevor Merritt sparked the comeback by interception Jackson State’s four-star freshman quarterback Jalon Jones.

Merritt returned the interception for a 50-yard touchdown. The score infused energy into the Wildcats as they swarmed defensively. On the next two drives, the Wildcats forced Jones to throw another interception and lose a fumble.

As a result, the Tigers were held scoreless over the last 20 minutes of action.

“We turned the ball over four times today and they got 28 points off turnovers,” Tigers head coach John Hendrick said. “We lost by 21 points and we missed two field goals and two extra points. If you don’t play clean football, you will get your butt beat every time.”

The Wildcats’ offense also found a rhythm. The unit put up 506 total yards and averaged 6.7 yards per play. Senior quarterback Akevious Williams performed well in his return from a season-ending knee injury. He finished 16-for-29 for 144 yards and one touchdown.

Sophomore running back Isaac Washington added 61 yards on nine carries and senior receiver Jimmie Robinson added five catches for 37 yards.

“His third quarter play was exceptional and I will take that any day.” Sims said of Williams’ performance.

Despite the loss, Jackson State learned a lot about their program. After playing three quarterbacks in the first half, Hendrick decided on junior signal-caller Derrick Ponder to start next week.

Ponder was 8-for-21 and threw for 130 yards. He split time with Jones and true freshman Quincy Casey. In the second quarter, he developed a good rhythm with DD Bowie. The sophomore receiver hauled in a 44-yard reception on the fourth drive of the game.

“He is going to be our quarterback,” Hendrick said.

Running back Jordan Johnson had 81 yards on 15 carries. He also scored a rushing touchdown. Bowie led the team with five catches for 105 yards.

The MEAC improved to 10-4 overall over the SWAC. This is their first win in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge since 2015.