DAVID CAMPBELL/UNIVERSITY PHOTOGRAPHER
The Alabama State University Hornets (2-1) cruised to a 38-24 win over the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats (0-4) in their first conference play of the year on Sept. 25.
This contest would be the first for the Hornets since their last game against Auburn University on Sept. 11 after having a bye week. It was also the first time these two have faced off since 2012 and the first time where both teams were a part of the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC), with Bethune-Cookman becoming full members during the offseason.
In this game, wide receiver Jeremiah Hixon shined, leading the team in catches with seven and receiving yards with 100. The Monroeville native also had a touchdown. Hixon talked about his big game.
“I’m just a normal guy who goes out and tries to make his plays when the time comes just like any other player, but when I get my number called, I try to make a play,” Hixon said.
The Hornets’ offense came out of the gate looking much more composed than their last showing versus Auburn University. They had success early through the air and on the ground. Hornet quarterback Ryan Nettles made some good decisions, especially his 29-yard scramble with the pocket collapsing around him. The Hornets continued to move the chains and capped off their first possession with a Nettles lob to tight end Wallace Corker for a 12-yard touchdown.
With a 7-0 lead, the Hornets defense looked to build off a great offense start. The Wildcats’ offense came out and immediately began to target their six-foot-six tight end Kemari Averett, who would be a tough matchup all night for the Hornets. Running back Jimmie Robinson III got the Wildcats’ run game going with a couple of carries as well. The Hornets were eventually able to stop the Wildcats and force them to punt.
Returner Robert McMinn muffed the punt, and the Wildcats recovered the ball, shifting momentum in their favor, and giving them another opportunity to score. The Wildcats wasted little time as Robinson III ran untouched for a game-tying touchdown.
The running back room got themselves going, getting the ball down the field. Ezra Gray and Jacory Merritt both found creases in the defense and moved the chains for the Hornets, with the former returning from an injury during the Auburn game. Nettles connected with Hixon for his second touchdown pass of the game to put the Hornets up 14-7.
The defense came up big for the Hornets in the second quarter after recovering a fumble forced by defensive lineman Brandon Gaddy. The offense wasted no time turning that turnover into points, scoring off another touchdown run by Merritt to open up the second quarter. This score gave the Hornets a 21-7.
With the Wildcats down two possessions, they sped up their tempo on offense. They benefited from this and caught the Hornets off guard, forcing ASU to waste a couple of timeouts to get back on the right track. ASU’s defense did manage to hold the Wildcats to a field goal to put the score at 21-10.
The defensive effort from the Wildcats, especially on the defensive line, would help them make things interesting by holding off the Hornet offense. The BCU offense took advantage, as Robinson III punched the ball into the endzone for his second rushing touchdown of the day, putting the score at 21-17. The play by Robinson III would be the closest the Wildcats would get toward the victory.
The Hornets controlled the rest of the game, dominating on both sides of the ball. The offensive line did a great job of protecting Nettles, allowing him to get the ball out to his receivers quickly and with relative ease. Merritt pounded the ball in for his second touchdown of the game to put ASU up 28-17, going into halftime.
The second half was more of the same as the Hornets continued to win in all three phases of the game. The defense continued to get stops and give their offense plenty of times to score. Nettles continued to get the ball down the field to Hixon and the rest of his receivers with ease. Gray scored the game’s final touchdown for the Hornets with a two-yard touchdown run putting the Hornets up 35-17 in the third quarter.
In the fourth quarter, the Hornets scored one more time on a 38-yard field goal from Cosmin Diaconu to give them a 38-17 lead with 12 minutes left in the game. His field goal would be the first for the Hornets since the fall 2019 season. The Wildcats’ offense had been struggling to get anything going the entire second half but did manage to score at the eight-minute mark on a 13-yard touchdown catch from Averett to finish the game out with a score of 38-24.
ASU head coach Donald Hill-Eley attributed his team’s performance in part to the bye week, saying, “With an FBS opponent [like Auburn], we needed those 14 days to recover. We don’t get those 14 days; you’re probably looking at a different outcome than what we had tonight.”
The Hornets look ahead to a big-time matchup in Tallahassee versus Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University on Oct. 2 at 5 p.m.