Hornets win Labor Day Classic in overtime

Alabama State University football opened the season Saturday with a 14-13 overtime win



Alabama State University’s wide receiver Keron Jones (6) nearly catches an overthrown pass to the end zone as Miles College’s defensive back Rodney Coleman, Jr. (2) watches on September 04, 2021.

Kendal Manns, Senior Reporter/Writer

Alabama State University Hornet kicker Cosmin Diaconu lines up for the extra point with the game in the balance. A hush came over the crowd as the ball was snapped and kicked off the tee. The ball travels through the uprights, and the crowd pops with cheers and excitement as the Hornets edge out the Miles University Golden Bears in a 14-13 overtime win in the Labor Day Classic.
The game was close all night, with neither team ever being up more than seven points. The Hornets offense would be without two big-time playmakers at the wide receiver position in Michael Jefferson and Jahod Booker after both transferred after the spring season. The team struggled at times to adjust to their loss.
The Hornets’ rushing attack, on the other hand, got in a rhythm early with running backs Ezra Gray and Jacory Merritt both sharing touches and moving the chains. Reigning Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) Freshman of the Year, quarterback Ryan Nettles started his 2021 fall campaign with a connection to Merrit for a reception on the one-yard line. Nettles would finish the job off, punching it in the endzone with a QB sneak to give the Hornets a 7-0 lead.
The Hornet defense would take the field after a strong showing in the spring season and returning with most of their players and adding some depth. Headlined by defensive lineman Christian Clark, linebacker Colton Adams, and safety Irshaad Davis, the defense picked up right where they left off, stopping the Golden Bears offense, especially in the passing game. Unfortunately, Adams, who had just returned from a season-ending injury in the spring, went down with injury again and was out for the rest of the game.
In Adams’s absence, the Bears got their running game going, but their passing game was still almost nonexistent. Combinations of options and scrambles by quarterback Claude Newell III and running backs Donte Edwards and Kingston Davis gave the Hornets issues on the defensive side of the ball. Unfortunately for the Golden Bears, they could not string together enough runs to put themselves in a position to score.
Two of the issues that plagued the Hornets throughout were turnovers and penalties. The Hornets had five penalties that cost them 35 yards and a couple of scores. This was a big part of why the Hornets’ offense was so stagnant, not scoring for the rest of the regulation.
Hornet head coach Donald Hill-Eley explained those struggles.
“Seems like every time we got in the positive thread, we turned the football over or some kind of sputtle of mistakes, but all of that is stuff that we can correct as we get back,” Hill-Eley said.
After being unsuccessful in putting the ball in the endzone for much of the game, the Golden Bears scored their first touchdown of the game with just under five minutes left to go in the fourth quarter. The touchdown came courtesy of the Golden Bears’ quarterback Octavious Griffin’s 16-yard pass to wide receiver Marcus Lodge. This score would tie the game and put all the pressure in the Hornets to either score a touchdown or get into field goal range.
The Hornets’ offensive woes continued as the team failed to get into field goal range giving the Bears the ball back. Fortunately for the Hornet offense, the Bears continued to struggle in the passing game. The defense came up with yet another stop to give the Hornets a look at a 54-yard field goal. Diaconu would come up short on the prayer, sending the game into overtime.
As overtime rules go, each team was given a single possession to score at the 25-yard line. The Bears were given the ball first and opened up overtime with a reverse run giving them the first down. A few plays later, Griffin ran the ball into the endzone on a quarterback keep to put the Bears up 13-7.
In what would end up being the biggest play of the game, Christian Clark blew up the center protection of the Bears to block the extra point, giving the Hornets new life.
Hill spoke about the big play saying, “Cristian Clark’s leadership showed as he got the push through the middle to block the extra point.”
When the Hornets got the ball back, they established the run game early. Nettles missed a touchdown opportunity with an overthrow to one of his tight ends. Overthrows were a big issue for Nettles in this game. A few runs later, Merrit hurdled over a pile of linemen into the endzone to tie the game and make the way for Diaconu to score the game-winner.
Despite winning the game, Hill-Eley says that his team can “learn a lot” from Miles as they face the Auburn University Tigers at the Jordan-Hare Stadium on Sept. 11.