BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The 76th annual McDonald’s Magic City Classic again went down to the final drive, and for the next 365 days, the Alabama State University football team has earned bragging rights with a hard-fought 21-16 victory over Alabama A&M Saturday night.
Alabama State (2-5, 2-2 SWAC), winners of back-to-back games, looked to have sewn the contest up when Darryl Pearson, Jr. found Chett LeVay in the back of the end zone for a 21-9 lead. However, Alabama A&M (3-6, 3-2 SWAC) returned the kickoff deep into Alabama State territory before trimming the lead to 21-16 on a two-yard.
However for the second consecutive game, the Hornets’ defense stood firm after an onside kick recovery by Alabama A&M. After giving a first down, Alabama State held the Bulldogs and forced an incomplete pass on fourth down.
Alabama State went into the victory formation and the Hornet faithful were able to start the celebration.
“We will enjoy this win,” Alabama State interim head coach Donald Hill-Eley said. “We will get back to the house and look at we did, and make some adjustments and move forward. It is great to win, and win for our fans. Our fans have been down all year while we have been trying to get things straight after starting off 0-5. Winning this game, it helps put life back into our program and back into our community, so it is a great feeling to carry a win back to Montgomery.
“Everything has meaning. We will take that 0-5 and learn from it, after you lose the first five games. And for the last two weeks to come out and win, it changed their mentality after winning two games and now they work because they know they can win.”
The momentum swung to Alabama State early on as Ronnie Scott, the defensive Most Valuable Player, intercepted a pass on the Alabama A&M sideline.
“When he intercepted that pass it helped us out,” Eley said. “It bought some time for the offense after we had been going three-and-out. It put them in a position where they had to adjust what they do being a running team. It took some things away that they wanted to do, which kept us in the ballgame.”
The senior then took off toward his own sideline, weaving through traffic and then turned up field to the end zone. He would run by two defenders near the goal line before diving in for a 59-yard interception return for the tournament. The return was his second of the season.
“I was exhausted,” Scott said of the interception return. “It was nice, it was a good spark to pick it off and get into the end zone. I was just excited for the team, giving us a chance to get some points on the board. It got the crowd into and the rest of the team into it, and I think we took a little bit away from them at the same time.”
Alabama A&M got on the board with a safety in the second quarter, and that is where the game stood at halftime with the Hornets leading 7-2.
After Alabama A&M took the lead on their first drive of the second half (10-9), the Hornets came right back down the field and lined up under center from the 12-yard line. Pearson turned and handed the ball off to Alex Anderson who went off the right side and dove for the end zone. He was upended, and the ball was dislodged as he hit the goal line upside down. However, after the replay, Anderson cross the plain of the goal line as he went airborne to give Alabama State a 14-9 lead with 6:10 to play in the third.
“I just had to make a play for my team,” Anderson said. “My number was called and I did my job for my team, and that is all I could do. Tonight is a great feeling. Starting out 0-5, it was very frustrating but this team and these guys continued to fight and push through. They continue to work, they continue to grind each day. And continue to finish. This win is a great feeling, a great feeling.”
That play set the stage for the fourth quarter heroics.
Pearson led Alabama State on the ground, on his way to offensive Most Valuable Player honors, as he finished the night with 85 yards on nine carries — including a long of 30. George Golden added 71 yards on 12 carries, while Anderson finished with 36 yards and a touchdown.
Pearson, the nephew of Alabama A&M defensive coordinator Travis Pearson, also finished with just 28 yards passing on the night, as the Hornets racked up 221 yards of rushing against the top-ranked defense of Alabama A&M.
“I just want to thank coach for giving the opportunity to play,” Pearson said. “I wanted to do it for my parents, they both played sports here. This was more than just a game to me so I just had to play as hard as I could, and make every play that I could. I did this for the seniors, I think they deserve to go out with a bang. That is how we are going to go through the rest of the year, try to go out with a bang.”
Willie White and Anderson each finished with a pair of receptions each for Alabama State.
Meanwhile, defensively, the Hornets held Alabama A&M to just 96 yards rushing and 125 yards passing on the night and recorded nine tackles for loss. Jarkeith Ruffin, Treyon Garnett, Malik Bridgers and Andre Wilson each recorded four tackles in the win. Ricky Haley finished with three tackles and a pair of sacks on the night.
“We have Jackson State that is sitting and waiting,” Eley said. “We are going to enjoy tonight, but we will be right back at it in the weight room tomorrow morning working it out. Then we are going to get ready for Jackson State. But we are going to enjoy every minute tonight.”
Alabama State returns to action next weekend on the road for the third consecutive time, facing Jackson State University for homecoming.
Courtesy: Alabama State Athletics