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.’’