One week after being named Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) Newcomer of the Week, Ryan Nettles scorched the Mississippi Valley defense for 371 total yards including a rushing touchdown and three passing touchdowns. The Hornets scored 21 points in the fourth quarter to finish off the visiting Delta Devils 42-17.
Valley was its own worst enemy squandering turnovers and scoring opportunities inside the red zone. Bama State made the most of both converting all three fumble recoveries into touchdowns. Quarterback Jalani Eason guided the Devils downfield with his legs and arm. Eason hit a wide-open Jarius Clayton down the sideline for a 32-yard gain on the second play from scrimmage. Clayton should have scored but stepped out of bounds at the Bama State 41. His error cost the Devils a touchdown. The Hornets’ defense stiffened and forced Valley to settle for a field goal.
The defensive front of Valley proved to be every bit as good as advertised. The Devils’ front four (Jerry Garner, Jalen Bell, Jeremiah Caine, and Eric Powell) held the Hornets’ star tailback Ezra Gray to 31 yards on 11 carries and sacked the elusive Nettles three times. Nettles’ 53-yard run in the third quarter was a rarity.
When the Bama State offense struggled, the Hornets’ defense came to the rescue. Down 3-0, redshirt senior defensive end Cameron Rampersaud punched the ball out of the arms of Devils running back Caleb Johnson at the Valley 44. Safety Eric Felts picked up the fumble and raced down the sideline. Eason caught up and spun Felts around at the 15-yard line. In mid-spin, Felts handed the ball off to fellow safety Irshaad Davis who took it to the house. Officials waived off the score on review and penalized the Hornets for an illegal forward pass. Three plays later running back Myles Crawley punched it in from 3 yards out to give the Hornets its first lead of the game.
Eason called his number inside the three-minute mark. The Portland State transfer sprinted around the right side of the Hornets’ defense 24 yards to the end zone. It was the last time the Devils would take the lead.
Nettles found his X-receiver Wallace Corker all alone and the redshirt junior coasted 59 yards into the end zone.
Davis gave the ball back to the offense several plays later intercepting Eason at the 45-yard line. Nettles and company didn’t have it long as Ronnie Thomas punched the ball out of the quarterback’s hands while pulling him down. Junior linebacker Ricky Williams scooped up the rock and returned it 40 yards before Bama State’s Gray made a touchdown-saving shoestring tackle at the 7.
Valley had the door to the end zone shut on them once again. This time Orlando Fernandez couldn’t bail them out missing wide right from 21 yards.
State added another touchdown early in the third capitalizing on an Eason fumble at the Hornets goal line. Nose guard Christian Clark, who at 6’1 363 pounds is a massive plug in the middle, knocked the ball from Eason’s hand. Freshman linebacker Karten Threatt recovered the ball in the end zone for a touchback.
Nettles used his elusiveness to set up the first touchdown of the second half. Feeling pressure from Valley red-shirt sophomore Antoine Howard, Nettles bolted out a hole to the Devils’ 15. On the very next play, the young playmaker found Jeremiah Hixon in the front of the end zone.
Eason closed the scoring gap on the ensuing drive with a 7-yard strike to Malik Myers. It was the last score for the visiting Devils as the Hornets dominated both sides of the ball the rest of the game.
The Hornets face off against interstate rival Alabama A&M in a modified Magic City Classic next Saturday. The Bulldogs are coming off a 52-43 win over Jackson State despite having played the fewest games in the conference. A&M has beaten both teams that dealt their rivals losses. It means absolutely nothing when these two teams square off, I just thought it was worth mentioning.
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All images c. Jason McDonald, JM Photography for CORE360 Sports