PHOTO BY DAVID CAMPBELL/UNIVERSITY PHOTOGRAPHER
The roaring crowd combined with the booming sounds of percussion ensembles created an atmosphere full of magic. Two teams representing two institutions competed for all the bragging rights as both teams looked to etch their names in another chapter of this historic rivalry.
The Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University Bulldogs claimed victory over the Alabama State University Hornets in a 42-28 win at the 80th annual Magic City Classic on Oct. 30.
The Bulldogs opened the game with a couple of first downs, including a pass by quarterback Aqeel Glass to wide receiver Abdul-Fatai Ibrahim for the initial first down of the game. Hornet senior defensive tackle Christian Clark ripped through a block and sacked Glass putting an end to the Bulldogs’ growing momentum. Sophomore safety Irshaad Davis blitzed Glass accompanied by other Hornet defenders and forced the Alabama A&M to punt.
Hornet quarterback Ryan Nettles returned to the lineup after missing a pair of games due to injury. He was a little rusty at the start of the game as the Hornets’ offense struggled out of the gate. Despite their offensive woes, the Hornets’ defense continued to get stops due to their relentless pressure on Glass. The Hornets started to gain momentum halfway through the first quarter and almost scored a touchdown on a lob pass to freshman wide receiver Robert McMinn from Nettles, but it was dropped.
After another missed opportunity for the Hornets, the Bulldogs took full advantage. Hornets’ star safety Irshaad Davis was ejected from the game for targeting after a hit on Glass. With Davis out of the game, Glass drove his offense down the field, delivering the ball to his receivers.
“He is the quarterback for us on the defensive side, and that left us very limited on what we could do schematically,” said Alabama State head coach Donald Hill-Eley about the ejection.
The offense line provided great protection for Glass on this drive, and it showed. The drive ended with Glass hitting receiver Dee Anderson over the middle for the game’s first touchdown. With a 7-0 deficit, the Hornets gained possession to end the first quarter.
Nettles started to get a rhythm going after he completed a string of passes. He and his favorite target star, wide receiver Jeremiah Hixon, got on the same page and their connection was crucial in getting the Hornets down the field. Nettles ended the drive with a pass over the middle to receiver Wallace Corker for a 31-yd touchdown tying the game up at seven apiece with 13:35 left in the half.
After defensive stops by both teams, the Bulldogs gained the upper hand. Nettles was picked off in the endzone by cornerback Ja’Marian Green giving the Bulldogs the ball back with a little over seven minutes to go. Alabama A&M wasted no time as running back Gary Quarles converted on a couple of first downs, but it was Glass who delivered the 55-yard bomb to Ibrahim for a second Bulldogs touchdown at the five-minute mark. Another quick offensive possession for the Hornets set up a hot A&M offense for another drive. Quarles burst through a hole and into the endzone to give the Bulldogs a 21-7 lead with 1:25 left.
When the Hornets get down multiple possessions this season, they have a hard time getting themselves back into the game. When it looked like the same thing would happen in this game, freshman returner Trevor Robinson ran the kickoff back for 27 yards putting the Hornets on their side of the field with a little over a minute left. A 20-yard rush from Gray and a 32-yard pass to Hixon set up a four-yard touchdown pass to Kisean Johnson with just 11 seconds to spare. The rush by Gray was historic, putting him over 2,000 rushing yards for his collegiate career. The Hornets went into the halftime period with a 21-14 deficit and would get the ball to start the second half.
The halftime show featured performances from The Marching Maroon & White and the Mighty Marching Hornets. The Marching Maroon & White paid tribute to the late great Michael Jackson playing songs like “Thriller” and “Rock With You,” while their band major led the band in some choreography similar to the King of Pop himself. The Mighty Marching Hornets partnered with the Street Team to perform an HBCU ‘N Proud formation and a tribute to Colin Kaepernick and the Black Lives Matter movement. The songs “Can We Talk” by Tevin Campbell and “Who Want Smoke” by Nardo Wick were also performed. The Honeybees and Stingettes stole the show with their choreography as well.
The Hornets came out of the gate fast to start the third quarter with a 45-yard kick return by redshirt freshman Nazareth Bryant giving them a great field position to start. It did not take long for the Hornets to score on a 16-yard rush by Gray to the endzone to tie the score up at 21, three minutes in.
The Bulldogs immediately responded with a touchdown of their own courtesy of a 37-pass from Glass to junior wide receiver Odieu Hilaire. With a 28-21 lead, the Bulldogs surprised the Hornets with an onside kick and recovered it, shifting momentum even more in their favor. A&M moved the ball at will and had one of their best offensive drives of the night. A trick play on a snap to Quarles, who rushed in for the touchdown, gave the Bulldogs another two-score lead with seven minutes left in the third.
The Hornets made it close by scoring a touchdown in the fourth quarter with nine minutes left to go, courtesy of a Nettles’ pass to Corker. Unfortunately for the Hornets, the defense could not get the necessary stops against the Bulldog offense leading to another score to keep the Hornets at bay and put the game at its final margin of 42-28.
Hill-Eley summed up the second half saying, “I think they took the momentum from us on the onside kick. We were just trying to get to the point where we could get some sort of momentum back and close the gap, but every time we cut it down, they did a good job of getting the ball to some key playmakers who made some good plays.”
After missing the last two games, Nettles returned and threw for 243 yards and three touchdowns, going 24-38. He added 20 yards on the ground as well. Corker, who was a recipient of two of those touchdowns, had six receptions for 73 yards. Hixon led the team with 10 receptions for 116 yards and a touchdown. Gray finished the night with 91 yards and a touchdown. This performance put him over 2,000 rushing yards for his collegiate career. Clark led the team in tackles with five tackles. Devonte Webster was not too far behind with four tackles.
The Hornets return to action on Nov. 6 on the road against the Prairie View Agricultural and Mechanical University Panthers.