Alabama State’s defense slammed the door with the game on the line to give the Hornets a 24-17 win over the Bulldogs of Alabama A&M in the Magic City Classic.
Wins over your rival are never easy. Getting it done after trailing 14-3 in the first half is bulletin board material for building a program.
Alabama State head coach Eddie Robinson, Jr., who played in this game as a star linebacker for the Hornets and is coaching his first, provided context. “It’s a great game,” said Coach Robinson. “You don’t know what it’s really about until you lose one. Hope we don’t get that feeling no time soon.”
Prior to Saturday’s win, the Alabama A&M Bulldogs had enjoyed a four-game winning streak and held a 41-39-3 record in the historic series.
After the first 30 minutes, it looked as if the Bulldogs would extend that series lead. Quincy Casey kicked the Bulldogs into gear with a 61-yard pass to Cameron Young. Casey came back to the pass a few plays later. This time he found Isiah Cox on a slant for a 2-yard touchdown
The Bulldogs’ lead grew on an amazing defensive play by Jamal Irby. On the first play, Irby, a 6′-3” defensive tackle got a great jump off the snap getting in the backfield to smack Dematrius Davis’ pass with his left hand/arm. The agile big man had the presence of mind and athleticism to catch the batted ball and scoot into the end zone.
Alabama A&M’s defense became even more ferocious after the interception. The Bulldogs held the Hornets’ offense to 1 yard on three possessions.
Halftime was electric. Alabama State kicked things off while cast members from Celebrity College Hill filmed along the sidelines (read being in the way). Shout out to BandTube for their efforts to capture the performances and avoid the reality show’s cameras.
The Marching Maroon and White closed out halftime well enough to make it too tough to call. Peep the footage for yourself:
How the Hornets’ offense finished the first half carried over into the first two drives of the third quarter – 7 plays, 7 yards.
Third of Three Phases
Statistics usually don’t tell the whole story of a football game. Making special plays at key moments can change the outcome. Donte Norris made that play for Alabama State. The junior running back was the first gunner down on the ensuing punt following the Hornets’ second drive. Grace’s punt bounced off the chest of Bulldogs returner Isiah Cox and into the waiting hands of Norris at the A&M 23-yard line.
Alabama State used the play to energize the offense. A roughing-the-passer penalty on third and nine kept the Hornets’ drive alive. Davis used the new set of downs to find Kisean Johnson in the endzone for a touchdown.
Dylan Creech kept the momentum flowing for the black and gold. The sophomore linebacker from Geneva, Alabama came clean on a blitz sacking Casey and knocking the ball from his hands. Bulldogs running back Donovan Eaglin recovered the loose ball while the Hornets defenders celebrated the sack.
If things seemed not to be going the Bulldogs’ way, the 30-yard punt from Victor Barbosa after the fumble recovery was proof. Barbosa’s short punt gave the Hornets’ offense the ball at the Bulldogs’ 42. Another defensive penalty, this time a pass interference penalty, extended the Hornets’ drive on third and 9. Jacory Merritt capped the 8-play drive with a 4-yard touchdown run to give the Hornets their first lead of the game.
A&M ate up a lot of clock on the ensuing 15-play drive but only managed to get a field goal for the effort. The field goal tied the game at 17-17 but gave the ball back to the Hornets with nearly 6 minutes to play.
Davis and receiver Darius Edmonds made the Hornets’ second big play of the game and it could not have come at a better time. Faced with third-and-20 from their own 9-yard line, Davis found the freshman all alone near midfield for a gain of 42 yards and a crucial first down.
Once in Bulldogs territory, the Hornets went back to their stars. Davis threw a strike to Jeremiah Hixon for a 23-yard go-ahead touchdown.
The Bulldogs needed a touchdown and they only had two minutes to get it. Casey connected on two slant routes to Terrell Garner and Cameron Young for gains of 18- and 16 yards to move into the Hornets’ territory. On fourth and 5, Casey made a huge pass to Micah White for a 17-yard gain to the Hornets 9.
Eight seconds remained on the clock and the emotion on both sides of the field all the way into the stands was at a fever pitch. Casey went back to what got the Bulldogs in position, the pass. He found Young at the four with a blocker in front of him.
At that moment it seemed as if every heart skipped a beat. As young turned to head towards the goal line, he stumbled and fell. A hush fell over the stands behind the maroon and white, while a roar rose up from the Hornets’ stands.
“If he stays up (Cameron Young) he probably scores,” said Bulldogs Head Coach Connell Maynor. “But he fell down. It’s a game of inches.”
With the win, the Hornets now only need one more to even the series but that’s 365 days from now. For now, bragging rights belong to Alabama State.
Alabama State (3-2, 5-3) heads to Daytona Beach to face Bethune-Cookman (2-3, 2-6). The Wildcats gave Prairie View a scare on the Panthers’ homecoming before falling 58-48 in a shootout.
Alabama A&M (3-2, 3-5) heads to Itta Bena to take on Mississippi Valley State (0-5, 0-8). The Delta Devils had a bye on Saturday.
All photos by Jason McDonald, JM Photography