Hornets fall to Prairie View Panthers

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The Alabama State defense had an inspired performance, despite what the final numbers look like, Thursday afternoon in a 20-17 loss to Prairie View A&M in the 96th Turkey Day Classic.

The Hornets (5-6) surrendered 466 total yards to the PVAMU offense, but in many ways played their most complete game of the year in the season finale. From the front seven to the secondary, ASU impressed.

The Hornets were fast and physical. They blanketed receivers the majority of the day and made one of the best running backs in the SWAC, PVAMU’s Dwonya Tucker, look pedestrian.

Tucker came into the day second in the SWAC in rushing, but Travis Pearson’s defense had no plans of allowing Tucker to expand on that narrative. The 5-foot-5 Panther running back would be the Hornets’ No. 1 priority, and they addressed that.

The Hornets’ front swallowed him up; disciplined in their gaps, slipping off of blocks and beating the Panther offensive linemen off the ball.

ASU linebackers flowed downhill with intention, filling gaps and getting good reads off their keys. Safeties Josh Hill and Irshaad Davis crept in the box and played around the line of scrimmage much of the contest, setting a hard edge to the defense.

As a consequence, Tucker finished the day with 69 yards rushing. He had 12 in the first half.

“I thought coach Pearson did a good job of just mixing it up,” said head coach Donald Hill-Eley, “and mainly taking him out of the game.”

 Any situation the defense was put in, any down and distance, ASU showed up. The Hornets stood up early on, showing their bronze on two first-quarter red zone stops. They stalled mounting drives by PVAMU (6-5) with turnovers, tight coverage and timely stops.

However, one of ASU’s biggest letdowns on the day defensively came with less than two minutes to play in the first half holding a 3-0 lead and all the momentum in the world.

The same defense that held a Panthers offense that averages 485.5 yards per game and 37.1 points to zero for 29 minutes and 38 seconds of the first half, allowed PVAMU to complete a 13-play, 79-yard drive and score with 22 seconds to play.

The ensuing kick, PVAMU would pooch kick the ball 30 yards toward its sideline, resulting in a Hornets’ fumble and recovery at the ASU 35. And for the first time on the day, the Hornet defense blinked, giving up a 20-yard touchdown pass with seven seconds to play in the half.

Advantage PVAMU 14-3.

This doomed not only the defense but ASU as a whole, because the Hornets’ defense wasn’t the only unit playing inspired. The PVAMU defense smothered ASU’s offense, and said to the ASU D, “anything you can do we can do better.”

Alabama State had 101 total yards of offense at the half and didn’t look like it would be able to score again at that rate of play.

The offense did improve in the second half, however, moving the ball with urgency and cutting a 20-3 third-quarter lead by the Panthers to three with 9:40 to play in the game.

The effort was just a little too late.