Photo: Alabama A&M Athletics

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Records and streaks tend not to matter when it comes to the Magic City Classic and that was certainly the case as Alabama A&M delivered a 42-28 victory over archrival Alabama State in the annual affair.

The victory marks the fourth consecutive time the Bulldogs have claimed the title Magic City Classic Champions – all four under head coach Connell Maynor.

Senior running back Gary Quarles shouldered the load with 126 yards on 20 carries, finding the endzone twice and adding four grabs for 29 yards while graduate quarterback Aqeel Glass closed out his fourth straight Magic City win with a 20-of-33 day that featured 321 yards and four touchdowns to four different receivers.

Leading “The Outlaws” was junior wideout Abdul-Fatai Ibrahim with six catches for 104 yards and a 55-yard touchdown streak while senior wideout Dee Anderson (Dallas, Texas) had four grabs for 71 yards and a 37-yard score.

Redshirt-senior tight end Kendric Johnson snagged three balls for 63-yards, one from 28-yards out, and junior wide receiver Odieu Hilaire had three catches for 54 yards including a 37-yard TD of his own.

While the offense lit it up, the defense made sure to get them the ball back as senior cornerback Ja’Marian Green stepped in front of a pass in the endzone for a key interception and Defensive MVP graduate linebacker Armoni Holloway delivered a game-high tying eight tackles. Equaling him in that category was sophomore cornerback Kenechukwu Eziomume, producing seven of those solo.

The defense would also make sure that ASU was operating under pressure as graduate linebacker Quantravis Kelly, senior defensive end Aaron Robinson and graduate defensive tackle Breon Austin each recorded a sack. Kelly added five tackles to go with his and graduate safety Trenton McGhee and junior safety JaBraun McNeal each had six stops to round out the top performers.

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Over their first two drives, neither team would find any traction as they combined for 25 plays and 42 yards before Glass took eight plays to go 48 yards to the ASU 37-yard line. It would be the ninth play, however, that Glass would shine on as he dropped a ball into the waiting arms of Anderson at the 11-yard line. The 6-6 target then ran it in to complete the 37-yard strike and a 7-0 lead with 3:37 left in the first.

The Hornets would come right back, however, with an 11-play, 87-yard drive engineered by quarterback Ryan Nettles and capped off by a 34-yard rifle to Wallace Corker right down the middle of the field to tie it at 7-7 just 1:25 into the second quarter.

Following a three-and-out by the Bulldogs on their next drive, ASU came right back again as they barreled down to the A&M 28-yard line before Nettles’ luck ran out. He went to the well again, trying to catch one of his receivers open down the middle, and instead could only watch as Green leaped in front to pick the ball off, simultaneously squelching an ASU drive and killing any momentum they had built.

The Bulldogs would capitalize on the turnover and they would take just five plays to go 80-yards. Following a 13-yard rush by Quarles on 2nd and 11, Glass delivered a laser down the left sideline to Ibrahim, who skirted a defender, brought it back inside and went 55-yards for a 14-7 lead with 4:54 left in the half.

Enjoying watching the offense work, the defense stepped up and limited Alabama State to five plays and three yards to give the ball right back to Glass and crew. They would not disappoint as Quarles racked up 33 of the Bulldogs’ 57-yards, capping an 11-play drive with a 17-yard touchdown scamper up the middle to stretch the lead to 21-7 at the 1:23 mark.

A 27-yard return set ASU up at their own 49-yard line and a 20-yard rush by Ezra Gray on the first play from scrimmage put them in business. Two plays later Nettles connected with Jeremiah Hixon on a 32-yard completion down to the four-yard line. From there he found Kisean Johnson for a four-yard touchdown to close the gap to 21-14, a margin the teams would take to the half.

The teams would pick right back up where they left off following the break as ASU covered 30-yards, 16 of those on a touchdown carry by Gray to knot it up at 21-21 by the 12:16 mark. The rest of the frame, however, would be all Maroon and White.

In typical lightning fashion, A&M went 72 yards in just six plays, that being highlighted by a 21-yard run by Quarles and a 37-yard bomb to Hilaire to go right back ahead, 28-21, less than two minutes later. They wouldn’t be done either as they opened up the bag of tricks to convert an on-side kick to regain possession.

It would be a drive they would not waste as Glass hit Hilaire for 12 yards before finding Johnson on consecutive 20- and 15-yard plays, respectively. That helped bring the ball inside the Hornets 10-yard line, setting up Quarles for a one-yard TD run to make it 35-21 at the 7:17 mark. Neither team would be able to capitalize on their next drives as they headed to the fourth with that 14-point margin.

That would change as Alabama State would put together an extended 12-play drive that saw Keron Jones pick up 27 yards on the ground over three plays late in the possession. Nettles would then cap it off with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Corker, who barely got across the goal line, to narrow it to 35-28 with 9:15 left in the game.

A&M would once again lean heavily on Quarles as he picked up 35 yards on a nine-play, 75-yard drive, this time with Johnson delivering the knockout blow on a 28-yard touchdown grab. That score put the Bulldogs up 42-28 and they would not look back, forcing a fourth down incompletion at the end of a 10-play drive by ASU before salting away the 14-point victory in the final minutes.

Nettles led the way for the Hornets, going 24-of-38 for 243 yards with three touchdowns but would also be sacked three times and picked once while Hixon finished with 10 grabs for 116 yards. Gray led the ground game with 91 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries and Corker had six catches for 73 yards and a pair of scores. Johnson rounded out the offense with the only other touchdown.

Christian Clark anchored the ASU defense with five tackles and half a sack and Cameron Rampersaud had a full sack and three tackles. Andre Ogletree had the other half sack and added four stops and Naytron Culpepper had a pair of pass break ups.

Nazareth Bryant ran back a pair of kicks for 45 yards on special teams and Gray added 42 on two run backs while Aubrey Grace punted four times for 129 yards, knocking one for 56 yards and landing one inside the 20-yard line.

Courtesy: Alabama A&M Athletics 


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