MONTGOMERY, Ala.— Tuskegee turned four big plays into 20 points and knocked down a potential game-tying two point conversion with two minutes left to defeat Alabama State 27-25 in the 89th Turkey Day Classic.
The exciting game between the two rivals was the opening game for the Hornets in their new on-campus stadium, which featured a sellout crowd in the first game.
“This was a blessing to be a part of this game,” Head Coach Reggie Barlow said. “I have been a part of some really big time games with a nice atmosphere, but this one here was outstanding. Kudos to both sides that came and supported the teams. Unfortunately, it did not end the way the Hornets wanted it to end, but we are still proud of our guys, they fought back at the end but at the end we just did not make enough plays.”
Isaiah Crowell’s one-yard run with 2:04 left capped a nine-play, 70- yard drive to bring the Hornets to within two points at 27-25. Greg Jenkins two point-conversion was tipped away from T.C. McWilliams in the back of the endzone and Tuskegee (10-1) came away with the victory.
“Just like most teams, everybody has that one play that you work on a whole bunch and it is your bread and butter,” Barlow said. “You may have some other plays, but this was a play we have been working on a bunch. With a play like that, when it is a one-shot deal, you want to give your quarterback a two-type option. If he can’t throw it in the flat, you want him to be able to run it or bring the defense up to him and make the throw, but it didn’t work out for us and they did a good job stopping it.”
After Bobby Wenzig’s 35-yard field goal midway through the third quarter cut the Tigers lead to 16-12, Tuskegee’s Derrick Washington took a pitch and ran toward the sideline before pulling up and throwing a halfback pass to Marquel Gardner. The play covered 57 yards and put the ball at ASU’s 19. Two plays later Justin Nared hit Kaleep Williams from 16 yards out for a touchdown. Tuskegee went for two and William Buford was able to convert the conversion and gave Tuskegee the largest lead of the game at 24-12.
On the second play of the final quarter, Jenkins found Jarrett Neely from five yards out to cut the lead to 24-19 with plenty of time left.
After that score Tuskegee put together their best drive of the game. The 15-play, 56 yard drive culminated with Eduardo Murillo’s 20 yard field goal that put the Tigers up 27-19. The drive took 8:59 off the clock and left ASU with 5:22 to work with leading up to their final score.
Tuskegee was able to turn its first three big plays into scores in the first half on their way to a 16-9 halftime lead. On Tuskegee’s first possession, Justin Nared was able to turn a third-and-17 play into a 42-yard long completion to Marquel Gardner. It was a pass that was tipped up in the air and Gardner grabbed the ball while on his back before it could hit the ground. That set the Tigers up on ASU’s 22 and Murillo ended the drive with his first field goal of the game from 22 yards out that gave Tuskegee at 3-0 lead.
Tuskegee’s next big play was a 61-yard run from Mike Thornton that led to Washington’s six yard score. TU’s final play, which may have been their biggest, was a 40-yard touchdown pass from Nared to Gardner with only 31 seconds left in the half to give the Tigers their halftime lead.
ASU’s first half scores came on a Crowell three-yard run and a Wenzig 23-yard field goal.
The Hornets finished the game with Crowell rushing for a game-high 118 yards to go along with two scores, and Jenkins finished with 106. It is the second time this season the Hornets boasted two 100-yard rushers in a game.
Jenkins had a solid game throwing the ball completing 20 of his 26 passes for one score and 147 yards. ASU finished the game with 375 yards of total offense.
ASU knew coming into the game they had to stop Washington who entered the game with 1,399 yards in the team’s first 10 games. After averaging almost 140 yards per game, ASU held Washington to only 95 yards on 22 carries. Nared finished the game completing nine of his 16 passes for 161 yards and the two scores.
“We knew Washington was a really good running back, and even better in person,” Barlow said. “He is an elusive guy, he runs for power and they have a good scheme that fits his running style. He came out and they gave it to him and the goal was to contain this guy. I thought for the most part the guys did a decent job it is just those big plays that ended up getting us at the end.”
The Hornets finish the season at 7-4. It is the third consecutive season the Hornets have produced seven or more wins in a season.
“There is a lot of emotion, of course, after you lose a game,” Barlow said. “Sometimes you want to be mad and jump up and scream, but no one feels worse than those players. I know the fans really, really want to win, but at the end of the day no one feels like they do because they are the one’s going through practices and of course they wanted to open up the stadium the right way. So it was a combination of when you face adversity like we all will, you have to find a way to overcome it. This is right down that line and they have to find a way to get past it, pull their heads up and continue to live life.”
– Courtesy: ASU Sports Information