‘Bama Battle: Donaldson, Banks Carries A&M Past State

By Ivan McDowell
Updated: October 28, 2007

BIRMINGHAM – Al Donaldson picked off two Chris Mitchell passes and Ulysses Banks rushed for 139 yards and a touchdown, as Alabama A&M won its third straight Magic City Classic defeating Alabama State 13-9.

An announced crowd of 68,593, the second largest crowd in classic history, watched a game filled with missed opportunities, penalties and turnovers.

The Bulldogs, ranked third in the latest BoxToRow.com/BASN HBCU Top 10 Football Poll, rolled into the Magic City Classic tied for first place in the Eastern Division of the SWAC at 4-1 (6-1) and winners of two straight and four out of the last six classic contests.

“This is always a big game,” said Bulldog Coach Anthony Jones. “We’re going to play this one with the focus necessary to win a game of this magnitude. They have a good football team, so looking ahead [to Jackson State next week] is not an option.”

Reggie Barlow, in his inaugural season as the Hornets head coach, got Alabama State off to an impressive, if not surprising start. ASU won its first four games, three of which were decided in the waning minutes. Reality set in however, as Barlow saw his squad drop its next three contests to slip to 3-3 in league play and 4-3 overall, before a bye last week.

“We wanted to be smart about it, “Barlow commented. “Our players had been at it since August 4. We wanted to give them some time to rest and rejuvenate their minds before getting back at it this week.”

The Bulldogs cracked the scoreboard first when Jeremy Licea booted an 18-yd field goal and the A&M held a 3-0 lead in the opening minutes of the second quarter.

Two possessions later, A&M would put the first touchdown on the board.

The Hornets’ Joel Raggins fumbled the punt and in doing so he set the Bulldogs up in excellent field position. Three plays later, Banks plunged in from 1-yd out to increase the A&M lead to 10-0 with 10:16 to play in the half, after the Licea point after.

Rashad Cylar was tackled before he could get his punt off and ASU took over on downs. Kicker Jeremy Fetterhoff kicked a 26-yarder, the first of his career, to put the Hornets on the scoreboard, 10-3, with just a little less than half the second quarter remaining.

The Hornets next possession was even more fruitful, as a series of Bulldog penalties and timely completions by Chris Mitchell kept the drive alive. Jay Peck, the conferences’ leading rusher coming in, bullied his way over the goal line off of right tackle to close the gap to 10-9 with 24 seconds left on the half. Fetterhoff’s point after was blocked.

A&M squandered a golden opportunity to add points after Al Donaldson recovered a Darius Mathis fumble at the six-yard line, the Bulldogs couldn’t punch it into the end zone and their 36-yard field attempt was blocked. It was the second blocked field goal on the day by the Hornets.

Later in the fourth quarter, after a Donaldson interception, Kelcy Luke drove the Bulldogs into the red zone, mainly thanks to his own 19-yard scamper that gave A&M 1st and goal at the three. The Hornet defense stiffened and held A&M to another Licea field goal, but time was becoming a factor now and ASU still trailed 13-9 late in the fourth quarter.

ASU regained possession after a Bulldog drive stalled and had one more opportunity to win the game on their last drive. The Hornets won three of their first four games on their last possession and this one looked to be no different.

Chris Mitchell (11-34-98-1), who struggled all day from the pocket, decided to use his legs on the final drive of the game. Mitchell drove the Hornets all the way inside the 30 on eight plays and 56 yards, but was picked off by Donaldson again.

For his efforts, Donaldson was named Defensive MVP with two interceptions and four tackles.

On the offensive side, the choice should have been easy, as A&M’s Banks rushed for 139 yards and the only Bulldog touchdown, but was snubbed in favor of quarterback Kelcy Luke. Luke had a lackluster day through the air, throwing for only 151 yards. Luke did add to the Bulldogs running game however, churning out 87 yards on the ground.

“I thought we made the proper adjustments in the second to defend what they wanted to do. “We did enough to win and I’ll never complain about a win,” cheered Jones.

“Our offense has really struggled,” lamented Coach Barlow. “We’ve got some young guys and we’ve just got to keep working with them and getting them better.”

Alabama State fell to 4-4 on the season overall and 3-4 in the conference, while A&M improved to 7-1 overall and 5-1. The Bulldog win sets up a showdown with East Co-leader Jackson State next week in Huntsville.

Magic City Classic Quickies:

– Alabama State blocked two Alabama A&M field goals.

– The Hornets also stuffed the Bulldogs twice on fourth and one plays.

Alabama A&M safety Al Donaldson recorded two interceptions.

Both Alabama A&M and Alabama State recorded three sacks in the contest.

The Magic City Classic victory is the Bulldogs third straight and fifth in the last seven games.

The attendance of 68,593 is the second largest in Magic City Classic history, trailing only 1991′s attendance record of 70,200.