Hornets finished this year’s contest rivalry with a sound victory 43-9



Hornets defense doing what they do best and preventing a touchdown in the third quarter.

Kendal Manns, Senior Staff Reporter/Writer

In the season finale, the Alabama State University Hornets (5-6) dominated the Tuskegee University Tigers (3-8) in the 97th annual Turkey Day Classic in a 43-9 win on Nov 25. This game is the first Turkey Day Classic played between these two teams since the 2012 season. 

After honoring the senior class of Hornets headlined by defensive lineman Christian Clark and linebacker Nicholas Terry, the Hornets hit the field against the Tigers. With freshman quarterback Joe Owens Jr. at the helm, the Hornets’ offense came out of the gate strong. Owens connected with sophomore receiver Brandon McDuffie for a 35-yard gain on a deep ball. Redshirt sophomore Jacory Merritt ran into the endzone for the first touchdown of the game on 4th and goal, capping off an eight-play 63-yard drive.

With the Hornets up 7-0 early, the Tigers’ offense struggled to generate a good rhythm and were forced to punt. McDuffie made his presence felt on special teams as well as he tipped the punt, making the ball go only 20 yards and giving the Hornets good field position to start their second possession. 

The Hornets’ offense had their way with the Tigers’ defense moving the chains similarly to their first drive. Owens showed off his athleticism by evading Tigers’ defenders to get positive yardage. Redshirt sophomore running back Dontrey Manley stepped up big in Ezra Gray’s absence due to injury. He and Merritt took turns wearing down the defense of the Tigers with a balanced running attack. It would be a six-yard completion to Jacory Merritt off of an Owens’ dime to add to the Hornets lead and put them up two possessions at 14-0 with two minutes left in the first quarter.

Neither team could find the endzone in the second quarter as both teams’ defenses came up with stops. The Hornets did manage to hit two field goals courtesy of senior kicker Hunter Hanson, hitting 19 and 31 yards, respectively. The first points of the game for the Tigers came from their special teams unit after blocking a punt from freshman punter Aubrey Grace at the ASU eight-yard line. The Tigers were unable to recover the ball, and it rolled out of bounds resulting in a safety. At the end of the first half, the Hornets had a convincing 20-2 lead over the Tigers. 

The halftime show featured performances from both schools’ bands. Tuskegee’s Crimson Piper Band returned to perform for the first time all season after boycotting events due to underfunding, among other things. The Mighty Marching Hornets performed afterward, along with the dance groups, the Stingettes and the Honeybees. Both bands performed worthy of the historic Turkey Day Classic. 

The offensive struggles for both teams continued after the halftime period. The Tigers did manage to put together a four-play drive for 86 yards to score their first and only touchdown of the game. A 44-yard rush highlighted this drive by running back Terry Bryant and a 43-yard bomb to tight end Latrevien O’neal thrown by quarterback Bryson Williams. The score was 20-9 going into the final quarter of play. 

The Hornets scored 23 points unanswered in the fourth quarter to give them the win. Freshman returner Robert “Flash” McMinn scored on a 37-yard return to give the Hornets a 27-9 lead with 11:45 left. 

Interim head coach Travis Pearson praised McMinn after the game saying, “Flash (McMinn), he’s fearless back there, and that’s why I like him. He’s such a fearless returner..so it doesn’t surprise me at all. He does it all the time in practice.”

After McMinn almost took another punt to the house on the next Tigers’ punt, the Hornets had great field position in the red zone before running an offensive play. After unsuccessfully getting into the endzone, Hanson came in and kicked another field goal through the uprights for his third of the game, putting the Hornets up 30-9. 

Star sophomore safety Irshaad Davis picked off Williams to give the Hornets their first turnover of the game. Freshman Myles Crawley, who had been inserted at quarterback for the majority of the fourth quarter, got his team down the field for another score. Merritt capped off this drive for the Hornets, scoring his second touchdown on the ground and third in total. Despite a missed extra point from Hanson, the Hornets remained in control with a 36-9 lead. To cap off the Hornets’ last offensive possession of the game, Manley burst through a hole for a 40-yard touchdown to put the game at its final margin of 43-9. 

The Hornets ended the game with 411 yards of total offense to the Tigers’ 212 yards. Owens finished with 209 yards through the air on 20-27 passing. Merritt and Manley combined for 162 yards with three touchdowns on the ground. Alabama State went a perfect 6-6 in the red zone and perfect on fourth down conversions (1-1). The defense totaled five sacks for 42 yards, with four Hornets recording one sack apiece. Davis’ six tackles and one interception led the team in both categories. Redshirt freshman linebacker Jake Howard added 2.5 tackles for loss in his five tackles total. 

After a brutal four-game losing streak, ASU won their final two games at home and put up their best offensive game of the season, scoring 43 points. They finished this season in fourth place in the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) East Division. The Hornets also remained undefeated at home throughout the season. They look to address multiple things in the offseason, with their head coaching vacancy being the biggest.