Alabama State’s season of promise continued to unravel Saturday in the 73rd Magic City Classic at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala., in front of 67,710 fans, the largest crowd for a game between two Football Championship Subdivision teams this season. The Hornets, ranked No. 1 among HBCUs at the start of this month, blew a 13-point lead en route to a 37-36 upset loss to arch-rival Alabama A&M after missing the winning field goal with 12 seconds left. It was the third consecutive loss for Alabama State (4-4, 3-3 SWAC), the preseason pick to win the SWAC East Division championship. The victory ended a two-game losing streak for Alabama A&M (3-5, 2-3 SWAC).
“It doesn’t take anything away from the losses, but it shows what kind of team Alabama A&M is today,’’ first-year Bulldogs coach James Spady said. Spady seemed appeared doomed to an unpleasant Magic City Classic debut in the early stages of the game. The Hornets scored on two of their first three possessions for a 13-0 lead. They maintained that margin through most of the third quarter. Leading 33-21 early in the fourth period, the crowd was fully expecting the Hornets to extend heir Magic City Classic winning streak to three straight games. But things took a U-turn in the fourth quarter. Running back Brandon Eldemire scored on a two-yard run to pull the Bulldogs within five points of the lead at 33-28 with 14:41 left in the game. The teams then traded field goals, leaving Alabama A&M staring at a 36-31 deficit with 8:23 remaining. Things got real dicey for the Hornets when Alabama A&M drove 95 yards in six plays for the go ahead points. Quarterback Jaymason Lee tossed a 49-yard touchdown pass to Tevin McKenzie with 2:26 showing on the clock to give the Bulldogs the lead.
Alabama State responded with a 12-play, 52-yard drive as the clock wound down. But the Hornets snatched defeat from the jaws of victory when Preston Clark’s 30-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left. Clark also missed a 37-yard attempt in the first period when Alabama A&M blocked his extra point attempt following the Hornets’ first touchdown. Alabama State controlled the game with its rushing attack. Running back Malcolm Cyrus topped the 100-yard mark with 148 yards as the Hornets ran for 237 yards. His five-yard touchdown run gave the Hornets a 33-21 lead. Quarterback Daniel Duhart threw for 267 yards for the Hornets, who outgained the Bulldogs 504-469. Lee riddled Alabama State’s secondary for 319 yards and three touchdowns; Eldemire led Alabama A&M’s ground attack with 120 yards.