MONTGOMERY – It took two lightning delays for a total of 88 minutes before Alabama State held on to defeat 14th-ranked Tennessee State 27-21.
“This was a big game for us and a big weekend for Alabama State and the Inauguration of our President,” Head Coach Reggie Barlow said. To play against a team like Tennessee State, who we have a lot of respect for, and the tradition and history they have there. We knew it would be a really tough game. Our guys stayed with the vision and just fought the process. We talked about a couple of characteristics we needed to have for this game; it was heart, resiliency, and we wanted to play as a team and just make sacrifices for each other. We were able to do that and we were able to get away with a win.”
Malcolm Cyrus led the Hornets (1-1) as he rushed for a game high 170 yards. He also added another 86 yards in receiving yards, the biggest was his 70 yard touchdown catch to put the Hornets up 17-2 early in the second half, after a 31-minute lightning delay coming out for the second half.
Cyrus had plenty of help in the backfield as ASU rushed for 255 yards. Khalid Thomas had 70 yards on 10 carries while Daniel Duhart added a career-long 30 yard touchdown run in the third quarter, which gave the Hornets their largest lead of the game at 24-2 with 10:32 left in the third quarter.
Duhart finished the game completing 12 of his 25 pass attempts for 189 yards and a touchdown. Nehemiah Henry had a team-high four catches for 52 yards while freshman kicker Preston Clark once again hit both of his field goal attempts and all of his extra points. He also pulled double duty as the punter, averaging 33.5 yards per punt on 10 punts. He had one downed inside the 20 while his long was 42 yards.
Kourtney Berry led the Hornets defense with 12 stops, but it was the play of Najee Bright that really turned the momentum for ASU. He returned a blocked field goal for a score in the first half giving ASU its first lead of the game (7-2) and he also had a career-high two interceptions from his safety position. He played at corner last week, but was moved back to his more natural position during practice, a move that paid off in dividends for ASU.
“It’s so good to see the things we practice work like the scoop and score,” Barlow said. “The block we called, Coach McNeil puts that together and we did a good job with it. It’s something we practice all the time and these guys don’t take it for granted. We were able to get in there and block it and the scoop and score were perfect. Najee did a good job getting down the picking up the ball and had a good escort of guys that got him into the end zone.”
“On the scoop, I didn’t really know who was going to get the ball,” Bright said. I saw them (teammates) reaching at it so I took the initiative to just go ahead and scoop and score it and my teammates led me into the endzone.”
Four defensive players finished the game with six stops including Marcus Berg, Trey Jenkins, Derrick Billups, Ka’Ra Stewart and Torrey Davis. Stewart and Edward Mosley each had a sack while Chris Terry had a game-high three stops behind the line of scrimmage.
After surrendering 685 yards last week, the Hornets defense rose to the occasion holding the high-powered TSU (1-1) offense to 432 yards this week. TSU only had 275 yards entering the fourth quarter, but made a mad rush to score two late touchdowns to cut a 27-8 ASU lead to 27-21.
After Clark’s second field goal of the game gave ASU a 27-8 lead with 12 seconds left in the third quarter, the Hornets had to hold on in the fourth to preserve the victory.
TSU scored 13 consecutive points to cut the lead to 27-21 with 4:33 left. After ASU went three-and-out, TSU got the ball back with 3:18 left on their own 42 yard line. The Tigers then drove down to the ASU 21 yard line, but after Terry stopped TSU’s Tom Smith for a three yard loss and a holding penalty against TSU, the Hornets saw a fourth down pass fall incomplete inside the 10 yard line as ASU held on for the win over the nationally-ranked Tigers.
“I told the guys we felt good about what we were doing, but this is a good team,” Barlow said. “They are going to fight back and that’s what they did, but we survived the assaults they had and kudos to these guys for playing their butts off. I have an appreciation for how hard they played.”
ASU held TSU’s Smith to only 70 yards rushing on 22 carries after he rushed for 151 yards for TSU in their season-opener last week. Michael German attempted 61 pass for TSU, but only completed 26 of those. They did gain 340 yards, but the Hornets were able to pick off three of his pass attempts and sacked him twice and also had nine quarterback hurries.
The game had a rough start as there was a 57 minute lightening delay before the first quarter was over, plus there was not a lot of offense by either team in the first half as there were a total of 12 punts between the two teams.
ASU used a couple of big plays, one by the defense and one by the offense to take a 10-2 lead in the locker room at halftime. TSU held a slim 2-0 lead after a Duhart fumble rolled out of the endzone with a little over two minutes left in the first quarter.
With 7:43 left before halftime, the Tigers lined up to attempt a 25 yard field goal but Daerius Washington broke through the line and blocked the kick. Bright picked the ball up on the 34 yard line and sprinted 66 yards giving the Hornets a 7-2 lead.
After another four punts, the Hornets took over on their own 28 yard line and after a 44 yard run from Cyrus, Clark knocked down a 32 yard field goal on the final play of the half giving the Hornets the 10-2 halftime lead.
The Hornets will be back home next week when they host Mississippi Valley State to begin Southwestern Athletic Conference action at New Hornet Stadium. Kickoff is slated for 5 p.m.