Labor Day Classic: Alabama State lights up scoreboard, beats rival Tuskegee

A. Stacy Long, Reprinted from the Montgomery Advertiser

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Comfort was the story of the night for Alabama State quarterback KHA’Darris Davis. This was the comfort of a bed after a long day of work. The comfort of a mother’s hug. The comfort found in a good meal.

And in the midst of that tranquility, Davis executed when it was needed the most.

On the final drive of the game versus Tuskegee, Davis surveyed the field on third-and-9 with roughly a minute to go on the clock, he checked off every box of his progression, he set his feet and he delivered a strike to wideout Michael Jefferson, who ran a 15-yard dig across the middle of the field.

The Davis-to-Jefferson connection, and the relief that encompassed it, was a microcosm of an ASU offensive explosion that gave the Hornets a 38-31 victory over the Tuskegee Golden Tigers.

Davis finished the night with a career high in passing yards and touchdowns on 20-for-30 passing, 347 yards and four touchdowns. Joining Davis in the career-high club were receivers Jeremiah Hixon (eight receptions, 116 yards, 1 TDs) and Jefferson (five receptions, 174 yards, three TDs).

Double vision: Alabama State receivers find dual success vs. Tuskegee

“Practice, practice, practice” is what contributed to the outburst and the chemistry displayed between him and his receivers, Davis said. “Them knowing what I see and me knowing what they see. We already know what’s going on, and I don’t really have to tell them.”

After throwing an interception on his first drive, Davis went 11-for-14 with 187 yards and three scores the rest of the half, eclipsing his totals from the week before, in half the time played. Davis exploited Tuskegee’s game plan to stop the run and the number of defenders they piled in the box to accomplish the latter.

More Classic in our future?: ASU, Tuskegee optimistic over extending rivalry

“They wanted to play us seven in the box,” Davis said. “And we used that.”

This Labor Day Classic shootout produced an offensive explosion that the Hornets haven’t seen in years against the Golden Tigers — the most they have ever scored in the rivalry since 2007 — and coach Donald Hill-Eley credits the spark to Davis’ growth over the past couple of years.

“It’s a process,” Hill-Eley said. “You’re talking about a kid who last year some of the plays he made tonight he didn’t make. So, the process has taken place. It’s called maturity. Him buying into Alabama State and what we’re trying to do.”

The manufacturers of the amount of time Davis had in the pocket tonight was none other than his offensive line.

The week leading up to the Labor Day Classic, coach Hill-Eley said that the victor of the battle in the trenches would have the most success and more than likely secure the win.

Over the years, “winning the battle in the trenches” has become a type of coach-talk to fill airtime, but for ASU there is some legitimacy to this claim being an area of emphasis for the Hornets in 2019. Tonight proved that.

Entering the season, the Hornets returned three of their five starters from a year ago — Carl Thompson, Leeward and D’Andre Brown — after most notably losing All-American right tackle and first-round pick of the Houston Texans Tytus Howard.

More: A look at the Labor Day Classic: Alabama State vs. Tuskegee

Despite the loss of Howard, this year’s group up front is off to a good start but is still in search of a complete performance.

In its first week at UAB, the offensive line looked to prove it is one of the strengths of ASU, leading a rushing attack that averaged only 108 rushing yards per game in 2018 — ranked second to last in the SWAC a year ago — to 145 yards in its first outing.

However, in the win over Tuskegee on Saturday, the offensive line had a tough time getting the run game going, as backs bounced outside to elude defenders that slid off blocks. ASU ended the game with 81 yards on the ground.

What they did do well, nevertheless, was pass protect. They kept Davis on his feet the majority of the game, only giving up one sack.

Fortunately, this is a veteran-laden group with over 70 college starts between Thompson and the Brown-duo. And they hope to help redshirt freshman newcomer Juwan Callines, who is still growing into Howard’s shoes, and redshirt junior Jordan Williams, whose career has been plagued by injury, grow with each week.

“During practice and when we have our meetings, we sit down and discuss a lot of plays, formations and fronts,” Thompson said. “So, when it’s time for game time (Callines) is aware, and it’s just like cybernetics.”

Moving forward, if the offensive line can excel in both pass-pro and run-blocking game-to-game, this ASU offense will reach its full potential by year’s end.