Alabama State’s Thanksgiving Day housewarming party for its $62 million dollar, 26,000-seat on campus stadium didn’t turn out the way the Hornets hoped.
Arch-rival Tuskegee made itself at home in Alabama State’s new digs with a 27-25 victory in the 89th Turkey Day Classic in Montgomery, Ala., ruining the first game ever played at the Hornet Nest and sending Alabama State fans home disheartened.
An announced crowd of 27,500 jammed into Alabama State’s new facility with the Hornet faithful proclaiming “Not in our house.’’— their way of letting the SIAC champion Golden Tigers know that their nine-game winning streak was about to end. The warning fell on deaf ears, however, as Tuskegee continued its dominance in the series. The Golden Tigers lead the series 48-38-3 and have won 10 of the last 13 Turkey Day Classics.
“The stadium is really nice,’’ said Tuskegee coach Willie Slater, “I can’t do anything but compliment them on it. They did it right.’’
Slater, who improved his record in the Turkey Day Classic to 5-2, said the victory was satisfying to him for a number of reasons.
“The longer I stay at Tuskegee, the bigger the rivalry is for me,’’ he said. “It was satisfying to see that our guys can play with them. The hoopla was we won the SIAC, but we hadn’t played anybody.’’
The Golden Tigers (10-1) play in Division II. Alabama State plays in the SWAC, a Division I conference, and competes in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). Tuskegee’s only defeat was a 7-6 loss to Alabama A&M, another SWAC school, in the season-opener.
A bit of gamesmanship on the part of Alabama State coach Reggie Barlow, who refused to allow the Golden Tigers to hold a walk-through on the stadium Field Turf playing surface, didn’t sit well with Slater.
“I told our kids their stadium is no different than ours,’’ he said, noting that the Golden Tigers have played on Field Turf surfaces three times this season. “It’s the same length and the same width. I told the pressure is on (Alabama State) to win, just go out and play and have fun.’’
Golden Tigers place-kicker Eduardo Murillo christened the stadium with its first points when he made a 38-yard field with 6:34 remaining in the first period. Alabama State countered with a three-yard touchdown run by Isaiah Crowell that made the score 6-0 after Bob Wenzig missed the PAT.
The Hornets’ lead lasted less than three minutes before running back Derrick Washington, a transfer from the University Missouri, scored on a six-yard run to put the Golden Tigers ahead again, 10-6. Tuskegee increased its lead to 16-9 at the half when quarterback Justin Nared hooked up with wide receiver Marquel Gardner on a 40-yard touchdown with 31 seconds left in the second period.
The touchdown was one of four plays of 40 yards or more for the Golden Tigers, who rolled up 403 yards total offense. Fullback Mike Thornton broke a 61-yard run to set up Tuskegee’s first touchdown. Washington completed 57-yard pass to Gardner in the third quarter that led to Nared’s 16-yard touchdown pass to Kallep Williams that increased Tuskegee’s lead to 24-12 with 2:35 left in the third quarter. Gardner also had a 42-yard reception on the Golden Tigers’ first scoring drive.
Washington, the SIAC Offensive Player of the Year, rushed for 95 yards on 22 carries even though Alabama State’s defense was keying on. The Hornets’ decision to gear up to stop Washington opened up the passing game for Tuskegee, and Nared took advantage. He completed nine of 16 passes for 161 yards and two touchdowns.
“My philosophy is to take what the defense gives you,’’ Slater said. “If that means going with him more, we’ll go with him more. If means going with the tailback more, we’ll go with the tailback more. In the passing game, he did what the read told him, and he did it really well.’’
Slater, however, said the Golden Tigers receiving corps, led by Gardner who had four receptions for 149 yards a touchdown, was the difference in the game.
“The receivers were the MVP,’’ Slater said. “Every single play that they had to make, they made it.’’
Gardner set the tone for the receiving corps with a circus catch on the Golden Tigers’ first scoring drive. Tuskegee was faced with a third-and-17 play from its 36. Nared threw a pass toward Gardner, but an Alabama State defender deflected it. Gardner caught the ball for a 42-yard gain while stretched out on his back
Alabama State tightened the score in the fourth quarter on quarterback Greg Jenkins’ five-yard touchdown pass to Jarrett Neely that cut Tuskegee’s lead to 24-19 at the 14:23 mark. Murillo’s second field goal of the game, a 20-yarder, gave the Golden Tigers an eight point lead with 5:22 left in the game and se the stage for a dramatic finish.
Alabama State drove 70 yards in nine plays with Crowell scoring on a one-yard run making it a 27-25 game. The Hornets two-point conversion attempt failed when Jenkins rolled to his right, scrambled back to his left, reversed his field again, and fired an incomplete pass into the end zone.
The Hornets got the ball back at their nine-yard line with 17 seconds, but they gave it back when Lucas Adams intercepted Jenkins pass on second down.
The loss ruined a stellar performance by Jenkins, who had 253 yards total offense – 106 rushing and 147 passing – in his final college game. Crowell, the highly celebrated sophomore transfer from the University of Georgia where he was the 2011 SEC Freshman of the Year, led the Hornets with 118 yards on 22 carries to go with two touchdowns.
The game could well have been the final meeting in the foreseeable future between the long-time rivals. The schools signed a one-year contract to play this year’s contest and agreed to form a committee with representatives from both sides to explore the game’s future. Both schools have expressed a desire to discontinue the series.
Alabama State is considering moving up to the Football Bowl Subdivision, where the likes of Alabama, Auburn, Troy, Alabama-Birmingham Notre Dame and Ohio State compete. Tuskegee has said it would like to be able to compete in the Division II playoffs. Because the Turkey Day Classic is played each year the weekend following the start of the playoffs, the Golden Tigers are ineligible. Slater said that if the Golden Tigers had been available for the playoffs this year, they would have been the No. 1 seed in their, had a first round bye and hosted a second-round contest.
Coastal Carolina 24, Bethune-Cookman 14: The MEAC’s run of postseason futility continued as the Wildcats lost at home Saturday in the first round of the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) playoffs. The loss was the 13th in a row for MEAC teams. No MEAC team has won in the playoffs since Florida A&M defeated Troy 17-10 in the 1999 quarterfinals. The Wildcats (9-3) are 0-4 all-time in the playoffs. Bethune-Cookman, which ended the season ranked No. 22 in the FCS poll, spotted Coastal Carolina (8-4), champion of the Big South Conference, a 17-0 lead after three quarters before scoring a pair of touchdowns in the fourth period and making the game interesting. A critical sequence early in the fourth quarter sealed the Wildcats’ fate. They had a fourth-and-five Coastal Carolina’s six yard line, but they were penalized five yards for a false start followed by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, moving the ball back to the 26. Backup quarterback Brodrick Waters, scrambling to elude the pass rush, connect with KJ Stroud in the back of the end zone for a touchdown, but the play was reversed on an official review. The Chanticleers scored again with 10:26 remaining to make the score 24-0. The Wildcats finally scored midway through the fourth period when quarterback Quentin Williams connected with wide receiver David Blackwell on a 74-yard touchdown. A two-point conversion made the score 24-8. Isidore Jackson, who rushed for 77 yards and surpassed the 1,000-yard mark with 1,069 yards for the season, scored on a 10-yard run that cut the score to 24-14.
Winston-Salem State 37, Shippensburg 14: Backup quarterback Anthony Carrothers passed for 332 yards and three touchdowns as the unbeaten Rams (12-0), the top seed in their region, registered a lopsided home victory in the second round of the Division II playoffs. Carrothers replaced starter Kameron Smith, the CIAA Offensive Player of the Year who was injured in the CIAA Championship Game two weeks ago. Wide receiver Jameze Massey had eight receptions for 167 yards and two touchdowns; Jashuan Butler, the Rams’ No. 2 receiver caught five passes for 123 yards, and running back rushed for 156 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries for the Rams, who gained 525 yards total defense. The Rams’ defense held Shippensburg (11-2) 35 points below its season average of 49.5 points a game. Winston-Salem will host New Haven in the regional championship game Saturday.
Southern 38, Grambling State 33: The Jaguars ended four years of frustration in the Bayou Classic with a SWAC victory at the Superdome in New Orleans as both teams closed out disappointing seasons. Southern (4-7, 3-6 SWAC) fired coach Stump Mitchell after the Jaguars lost their first two games and replaced him with defensive coordinator Dawson Odums on an interim basis. Odums is expected to be replaced in the coming weeks. Grambling (1-10, 0-9 SWAC) had its worst season since 1941, legendary coach Eddie Robinson’s first year at the helm. The G-Men were winless in the conference for the first time since joining the SWAC. Quarterback Dray Joseph was the offensive star for Southern. He threw for 287 yards and five touchdowns. Backup quarterback Frank Rivers entered the game with less than five minutes remaining when leg cramps forced starter D.J. Williams to the sidelines with Grambling trailing 38-26.. Rivers threw for 64 yards and engineered a touchdown drive cut the score to 38-33. Rivers drove Grambling to Southern’s 41 yard-line, but he fumbled the ball away when he was sacked with 59 seconds left in the game. Williams, the son of Grambling coach Doug Williams, threw for 284 yards before leaving the game.