Bulldogs Outlast Hornets 17-16

By Ivan McDowell
Updated: October 27, 2008

Offensive MVP Kevin Atkins led the Alabama A&M to a thrilling 17-16 win over Alabama State.
Photo courtesy of Allen Smith.

Offensive MVP Kevin Atkins led the Alabama A&M to a thrilling 17-16 win over Alabama State. Photo courtesy of Allen Smith.

BIRMINGHAM — On paper, the 67th Annual Magic City Classic would seem to been a mismatch. Alabama State brought a struggling offensive attack and a defense that hadn’t caused many turnovers either. These factors correlate as to why the Hornets came limping into Birmingham with a 1-5 record.

Alabama A&M, while not having set the world on fire on either side of the ball and off to a 3-5 start, does co-lead the Eastern Division of the SWAC (2-1) with Jackson State and has won the last three contests against ASU under Anthony Jones.

The Bulldogs had won seven of the last nine Magic City Classic games.

Uncharacteristically, A&M came in giving up more points than they’d scored themselves. Much of that can be attributed to playing four tough non-conference games to open the season. The Bulldogs lost three of the four. In SWAC play, A&M had surrendered a mere 19 points in three games.

Unfortunately, they’ve only totaled 50 points on offense themselves.

A&M got on the scoreboard first via a Ulysses Banks 10-yard jaunt off of right tackle for a 7-0 lead. The touchdown was set up by two Kevin Atkins to Thomas Harris passes, the first of which floated down the sideline for 36 yards. Harris caught the next pass in the flat then juked his way for 13 yards and another first down.

After A&M wasn’t able to capitalize on an Anthony Speight interception, the Hornets went to work. One handed catches by halfback Nick Andrews and receiver Marcus McCall kept a six minute drive alive that was culminated by a Jake King 38-yard field goal.

The Hornets’ Fred Ragsdale dropped a wide open touchdown pass from Speight that would’ve closed the deficit to one. Speight tossed his second interception of the game, this time to defensive end Frank Kearse, which set up the Bulldogs inside the Hornet 20-yard line.

Three plays later Jeremy Licea booted a 29-yard field goal to give the Bulldogs a 10-3 advantage. Licea has kicked 12 consecutive field goals without a miss, a school record. The NCAA record is 15-for-15.

The Hornet offense was still unable to muster any yardage through the air or on the ground and after a Jeremy Maddox 15-yard sack and subsequent ASU punt. A&M was in the red zone again.

Unfortunately two straight drops for the Bulldogs nullified a potential touchdown and the Bulldogs had to settle for another Licea field goal. Licea missed his first attempt of the season and the score remained 10-3.

Perhaps seeing a chance to capitalize on the bullet they dodged, Alabama State marched down to the A&M 13-yard line. Back-to-back questionable pass interference calls set up the game tying score.

When Speight found Darius Mathis from 13 yards out, uncle mo had shifted and the game was tied heading into the locker room. The defenses became stout in the third quarter until the Bulldogs found their groove with just over five minutes to go in the quarter.

Atkins threw a dart to Nate Baxter for 38 yards that put A&M in business. An ensuing face mask penalty gave A&M the ball at the Hornet eight-yard line. Two plays later Rashad Johnson caught Atkins toss from four yards out to make put the Bulldogs in front 17-10.

With the game on the line and the ball in the error prone Speights at the helm, the Hornets looked to be in dire straights trailing by seven heading into the final minutes. Led by the running of Traylor (21 carries, 139 yards), Alabama State moved down the field seemingly at will.

When Speights hit Andrews for 15 yards and the score the game looked to be headed into overtime. Then the unthinkable happened. Holder Reid Herchenbach botched the snap and on the extra point, scrambled and threw the ball out of the end zone and the score was 17-16.

Alabama State had one more opportunity, but Duke-transfer Alfred Williams stepped in front of a Speights pass to seal the victory. “This game is such a great rivalry. You forget the records and the stats when these two teams play,” commented a visibly worn Anthony Jones.

Game MVP Kevin Atkins was 14 of 26 for 215 yards and no interceptions. Defensive MVP Jeremy Maddox had two sacks. “This is a great win for us and it comes a

t a great time…right before the break,” said Atkins.

“Now we get a chance to rest, go see our families and come back two weeks from now even stronger.”