Two hard-hitting teams battled for 60 minutes before the Panthers emerged with a 24-15 road win over the Hornets Saturday night in Montgomery, AL.
Anyone keeping up with SWAC football knew both Prairie View and Alabama State were going to field tough physical defenses this season. Both schools hired former teammates from the Houston Oilers to head up their programs. The pair ranked fourth and fifth in total defense in 2021.
Prairie View A&M head coach Bubba McDowell played safety while Alabama State head coach Eddie Robinson played linebacker for the renamed National Football League franchise (Tennessee Titans).
McDowell’s influence on the Panthers’ defense began in 2011. He was tasked by former Head Coach and Southern Jaguars’ alumnus Heishma Northern to develop the Panthers’ young secondary. Over the years, and three head coaches, the secondary has been solid.
Saturday night the Panthers’ secondary intercepted a pass at the goal line and limited the Hornets to 207 yards receiving.
Robinson inherited the conference’s fourth-ranked defense that gave up an average of 152 yards rushing per game.
Bama State missed the first scoring opportunity of the game. Freshman quarterback Dematrius Davis connected with Jeremiah Hixon on three consecutive plays for 34 yards to move the Hornets into the Panthers’ half of the field. Panthers linebacker Kenden Jones brought the drive to a halt sacking Davis for a loss of five yards on third and six. The Hornets came away with nothing as Nathaniel Eichner’s 47-yard field goal came up a bit short of the crossbar.
Trading a potential touchdown for a field goal is an acceptable consolation prize, but trading it for zero is not. For the game, Eichner was 1-for-3 on field goals and 0-1 on point-after-try (PAT). A make and a touchdown on either one of those drives or a successful PAT and this is a different story.
Robinson highlighted the Hornets’ kicking game as his biggest takeaway from the game. “If you can’t kick, you can’t win,” said the first-year head coach.
The Hornets’ missed field goal wasn’t infectious. Prairie View went 72 yards straight into the end zone on 7 plays. Quarterback Trazon Connelly sprinted through the middle of the Hornets’ defense from 16 yards out diving the final two. The redshirt junior rushed for the first touchdown to give the Panthers the lead and then threw for the last touchdown of the game to secure the win.
Connelly’s one mistake was heaving up a pass from the end zone while under pressure from the Hornets’ front seven. The ball landed in the hands of sophomore defensive back Cail Jackson in the middle of the field. Jackson, led by teammates Rodney Echols and Chauncey Moore, returned the pick 19 yards to the Panthers 3. Ja’Won Howell punched through the middle of the line to draw the Hornets within two.
In an attempt to get the points back from a blocked point-after-try, the Hornets went for the two-point conversion. Again they turned to Howell only this time the Panthers were ready. Junior linebacker Warren Shankle met Howell in the backfield to preserve the slim lead.
With the momentum clearly at the Hornets’ back and 11 minutes remaining on the clock, not one fan headed to their cars.
Prairie View needed a score or a prolonged clock-eating drive. They managed the latter. Connelly and company ate up five minutes on the ensuing drive despite only gaining 28 yards on 7 plays.
With the ball back in his hand, Davis was confident in his team’s chances to score with six minutes on the clock. The Hornets quarterback needed only six plays to move the team 61 yards to score the team’s first touchdown of the game.
Taking over at their 16-yard line didn’t bother the Hornets’ offense. Jacory Merritt ripped off runs of 4- and 20- yards on the first two downs. Merritt led all rushers with 143 yards on 17 carries including a 31-yard jaunt in the second quarter.
Let’s examine Paul Bear Bryant’s famous quote “offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships.” In this instance, the quote can be amended to conclude “…defense provides the opportunity to win.”
When given time, Davis spread the ball around to a variety of receivers completing 13 of his 23 passes.
The Panthers’ defense had four sacks, three hurries, and four more tackles in the backfield. Time to throw against this defense was a luxury doled out in small windows. With a slim 2-point lead and the Hornets moving the ball, the Panthers brought pressure. Davis felt the pressure, cocked to throw, followed through, and nothing. The football had slipped out of his hand and onto the ground where redshirt senior Shahid Reece recovered it at the Hornets’ 35.
“That’s on me,” said the Houston native. “My hands were slippery.”
Connelly went right to work finding Chris Herron on the slant route all alone in the middle of the field. Herron walked into the end zone to give the Panthers a two-score lead.
- Trazon Connelly 14-19-1, 180 yards, 2 rushing Tds, 1 passing touchdown.
- Ty Holden 5 rec. 62 yards, 1 pass for 56 yards
- Chris Herron 3 rec. 59 yards, 1 TD
- Tariq Mulmore 13 tackles
- Shahid Reece 2 fumble recoveries
- Jacory Merritt 17 carr. 143 yards, 31 yard run.
- Santo Dunn 8 carr. 49 yards
- Kisean Johnson 2 rec. 54 yards, 30 yard catch
- Jeremiah Hixon 3 rec. 34 yards
- Colton Adams 13 tackles, 1.5 TFL
- Cail Jackson 3 tackles, 1 int.
Game Photo Gallery
All photos credit Jason McDonald, JM Photography for CORE360 Sports