In the heart of Alabama, under the bright lights of ASU Stadium, Alabama State opened its 2023 college football season against the Southern Jaguars in the Labor Day Classic. Two touchdown passes and a predatory defense led the Hornets to a 14-10 victory in front of a homecoming-like crowd of 20,726.

When Bama State Head Coach Eddie Robinson Jr. was hired, it was with the intention of revitalizing the Hornets program and bringing back a championship. The 2023 season opener was a pivotal moment for the team, and the Hornets delivered on the promise they showed in the offseason.

It had been nearly two decades since the Hornets had beaten the Jaguars in Montgomery, and the five consecutive losses against their rivals only added to the stakes of this matchup. Southern held a 30-12 series lead over Alabama State, but this time, the Hornets were determined to change the narrative.

Hornets quarterback Dematrius Davis completed 15 of his 21 passes including two touchdowns to Kisean Johnson. Johnson had an outstanding game, catching nine passes for 107 yards, and his performance played a crucial role in the Hornets’ victory.

Southern quarterback Harold Blood gave the Jags an early lead with a 16-yard pass to Kendric Rhymes in the end zone to cap their 77-yard opening drive. Blood finished the game with 17 completions on 34 attempts for 166 yards, 1 touchdown, and 2 interceptions.

Hornets defensive back Cail Jackson, Jr nearly made it 3 picks and a 21-10 game. Jackson a junior from Midville, GA, broke on a pass perfectly but dropped it with nothing in front of him but 40 yards of open field.

The game’s turning point came when Treqwan Thomas executed a strip-sack on Southern’s Harold Blood, and the Hornets’ Roderick Daniels pounced on the loose ball. This turnover put Alabama State’s offense in a prime position to capitalize. After an incomplete pass on first-and-10, Davis found Johnson with a short pass over the middle for a 17-yard catch-and-run touchdown, giving the Hornets a 14-10 lead with 5:42 left in the third quarter. It was a lead they would not relinquish.

Southern’s offense struggled to regain momentum after this critical turnover. Their only drive that crossed midfield ended with a fumble recovery by Alabama State’s Stefon Young-Rolle at the 42-yard line. Blood, who finished the game with 166 passing yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions, couldn’t engineer a comeback for the Jaguars.

The Hornets’ defense was relentless in the second half, forcing five turnovers, including a turnover on downs, to stifle any hopes of a Southern comeback.

Bama State head coach Eddie Robinson Jr. reflected on the defense’s ability to cause turnovers. “This is the type of game we wanted, we wanted a physical game,” said Robinson. “We got a lot of turnovers and interceptions in practice. We felt like the ball skills of our secondary is much better than it was last year.”

UNLV transfer and senior cornerback Mikey Victor demonstrated those ball skills picking off Blood with less than 47 seconds to end the Jags’ thoughts of a comeback. Victor’s diving pick drew praise from Robinson. “That play Victor made was a super, high-level play,” said Robinson.

Kisean Johnson and his coach credited his standout performance to the work he put in during the off-season. “It was a lot of early mornings and late nights,” said Johnson. “For me, it’s about continuing to want more and never getting satisfied.” He emphasized the importance of how the bond he has formed with roommate and quarterback Dematrius Davis translates on the field.

Davis echoed Johnson’s sentiments, underscoring their strong communication and the effectiveness of their partnership on the gridiron. Ja’Won Howell, another key player for Alabama State, credited their defensive intensity for turning the tide in their favor.

Coach Eddie Robinson Jr. praised his team’s performance and emphasized their dedication to protecting their home turf. He recognized the significance of creating turnovers and acknowledged the challenges posed by penalties. Robinson also highlighted the emergence of Kisean Johnson as a key player in their offensive scheme.

Regarding Davis, Robinson noted his improvement as a quarterback and expressed confidence in his future development. He stressed the importance of Davis evolving beyond a pocket passer and praised his ability to move in and out of the pocket effectively.

The victory over Southern was a significant step toward Alabama State’s ultimate goal of winning the conference and securing a spot in the Celebration Bowl. Coach Robinson’s leadership and the stellar performance of his defensive and offensive playmakers have set the stage for an exciting college football season.

Next up for the Hornets, is Miles College from nearby Birmingham. Southern will return home to Mumford where they will host a Jackson State (1-1) squad that dropped a big game to Eastern Division foe Florida A&M in the Orange Blossom Classic.

Game, Halftime, and Tailgate Photos

All photos by Jason McDonald, JM Photography for CORE360 Sports

2023 Southern-Bama State