Jackie Wilson threw a 6-yard pass to Jordan Murphy in the fourth quarter for the only touchdown and Bethune-Cookman beat Tennessee State 12-9 on Sunday night in the John Merritt Classic.
Tennessee State had a chance to tie, but Jamin Godfrey missed a 49-yard field goal wide right to end the game.
Bethune-Cookman rushed for 162 yards on 42 attempts and had 260 total yards to Tennessee State's 248 in the season opener for both teams. Isidore Jackson led the Wildcats with 56 yards on 12 attempts.
Tennessee State's Ronald Butler was 13 of 21 for 132 yards in his first career start. Butler started in place of junior Mike German, who is serving a two-game suspension for being declared academically ineligible last spring. German, who did not go through spring practice, also was charged with felony vandalism in the spring but the charge was dismissed last month.
Richard Dent, the Pro Football Hall of Famer who starred at Tennessee State from 1979-82, had his jersey retired during a halftime ceremony and tossed the coin before the game.