The Alabama State University Hornets fell to the Jackson State University Tigers in a 28-7 loss on Oct. 15, in a battle for the No. 1 seed in the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC).
This game was the first time these two teams faced off against each other since the 2021 spring season matchup where the Hornets won 35-28. Both teams looked much different since that game. The Hornets saw departures from two of their most productive receivers in Michael Jefferson and Jahod Booker, while also having freshman quarterback Myles Crawley replace Ryan Nettles due to an injury. The Tigers had many new additions to their team, including freshman starting quarterback Sheduer Sanders.
With 55,000 people packed into Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium for Jackson State’s homecoming, the two teams commenced play. The Tigers’ defense set the tone for the game early, forcing a three and out on the Hornets’ first possession. The offense capitalized and went for a nine-play, 50-yard drive that ended with Sanders narrowly escaping the pursuit of the Hornets’ defensive line and throwing a touchdown pass to wide receiver Keith Corbin III.
With a 7-0 lead, the Tiger defense forced another three and out as the Hornets struggled to get a rhythm in the hostile environment of Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium. The rest of the first quarter was a battle of the defenses, with both teams struggling to move the ball. Penalties were attributed to the teams’ offensive struggles as well. Both teams produced a lot of pressure forcing the respective quarterbacks to take some tough hits and scramble out of the pocket.
The start of the second quarter looked promising, with ASU converting on a big first down. Myles Crawley appeared to be getting into a rhythm with a nice pass to wide receiver Jeremiah Hixon. Just when the Hornets started to get going, another penalty cost them momentum, and by extension, the ball, as they were forced to punt. Later on, in the quarter, Crawley hit wide receiver Keron Jones on a 42-yard-deep ball to get the Hornets into the red zone. A few plays later, Hixon found a crease in the Tiger’s defense, and Crawley threw it to him for a touchdown.
With the score tied 7-7, the Hornets started gaining momentum. Senior kicker Hunter Hanson forced a fumble on a big hit on kick returner Herman Smith III to give the Hornets the ball in Jackson State territory. The Tigers’ defensive line again generated pressure on Crawley and stopped the Hornet drive in its tracks, pushing the Hornets out of field goal range. The teams went into halftime still tied up at seven.
After the halftime performance by the Mighty Marching Hornets and the Sonic Boom of the South, the teams resumed playing in the second half. The Tigers’ offense hit the ground running. They were very pass-heavy in their first drive, with Sanders finding his receivers and moving the chains. Corbin III showed off his great catching ability on some back-to-back tough catches for first downs. Malachai Wideman also made a great catch to get the Tigers in the red zone. Sanders finished off the drive with a touchdown pass to Wideman, despite the pressure from the Hornets.
Down 14-7, the Hornets failed to respond, being forced to punt again after three quick plays. The Tigers’ offense did not let up as Sanders connected with Wideman for a big 36-yd gain taking advantage of confusion in ASU’s secondary, putting them in the red zone again. Running back Santee Marshall walked into the end zone on a sweep option to give the Tigers a 21-7 lead.
A combination of penalties and pressure from the Tigers’ defense stopped the Hornets from doing anything in the second half offensively. They had 11 penalties for 93 yards to the Tigers’ eight penalties for 65 yards. Penalties also cost them on the defensive side of the ball. A great defensive stand by the Hornets was negated due to a face mask penalty extending the Tigers’ drive to put them into position for their final score. Running back JD Martin rushed for a 21-yard touchdown for the final margin with 9:44 remaining.
“In the second half, they came out and made three incredible catches, and they were able to make plays. They came out on the next drive and did the same thing and took us out of what we wanted to do. We felt like we could wear them down. By the time we got to wear them down, we got behind,” said Hornets’ head coach Donald Hill-Eley on his team’s struggling play in the second half.
The Hornet offense was held to just 157 yards total, while the Tigers finished the game with 350 yards. Crawley went 9-26 on 117 passing yards. Jones ended with four receptions and 72 yards, while Hixon recorded three receptions for 30 yards.
Naytron Culpepper led the defense with seven tackles and a forced fumble. Irshaad Davis was not too far behind with six tackles and a sack.
With this loss, the Hornets dropped to third place in the SWAC East division, behind Jackson State and Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University. They will have a week off to prepare for the 80th annual Magic City Classic showdown versus Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University on Oct. 30.