BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – For the first time in nearly a decade, No. 25 Alabama A&M (4-0, 3-0 SWAC) football is the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) East Division Champion and has earned a berth in the league title game with a 38-14 rout of rival Alabama State (3-3, 3-2 SWAC) in the 79th Annual Magic City Classic on Saturday, April 17.
The win locks up the seventh overall East Division title for the Bulldogs and their first since 2011. They previously earned that honor in 2000, 2002, 2005, 2006 and 2009. It also snaps Alcorn State’s run of six straight titles as the Braves move to the West next year. Of those championships, the 2006 title holds a special place in program history as its only overall SWAC Championship and is also fitting for Spring 2021.
That season A&M defeated Arkansas-Pine Bluff in the title game and will face them this year with the opportunity to potentially host the game at Louis Crews Stadium. A win over Mississippi Valley State next weekend would send the teams into tiebreakers to determine where that game would be played while a loss will put it in Pine Bluff.
Neither team would light up the scoreboard in the first quarter as ASU’s Jacory Merritt ran it in from one yard out to cap a 95-yard, 11-play drive at the 8:30 mark for a 7-0 lead. The Bulldogs answered with one of Quarles’ two TDs, this one from seven yards out with 3:14 left in the opening frame.
Midway through the second the Hornets Michael Jefferson caught a nine-yard touchdown to retake the lead and Quarles once again answered back, this time with a 15-yard scamper into the endzone to knot it back up at 14-14 with 6:42 left in the half.
With their drive at the end of the frame stalled, Alabama State was forced to punt with nine seconds on the clock, only to see Amari Holloway come crashing in to block it and give the ball back to A&M with four seconds left and the chance at a long field goal. Lined up from 46-yards out, redshirt-junior kicker Spencer Corey (New Palestine, Ind.) was equal to the task as he drilled it home for a 17-14 lead at the break.
With that punt block and ensuing field goal the momentum changed completely. Glass and the Bulldogs came out slinging it as he hit Moore for a 44-yard score less than three minutes into the third and followed with a 38-yard strike to the speedy wideout to blow the game open at 31-14 with 3:17 left in the frame.
A&M would add a two-yard TD to Hilaire at the beginning of the fourth and then salt away their fourth straight Magic City Classic victory, this one giving them an East Division title and a spot in the SWAC Championship.
THE STATS – ALABAMA A&M
Senior quarterback Aqeel Glass (St. Louis, Mo.) was dominant again with a 25-of-40 performance that saw him compile 372 yards through the air, three touchdowns, no interceptions and even a team-high 45 yards rushing on five attempts.
The main beneficiary of that aerial highlight reel was senior wide receiver Zabrian Moore (Tuscaloosa) who registered 138 yards receiving on four catches, two that went for scores. Not far behind him was sophomore wideout Abdul-Fatai Ibrahim (Miramar, Fla.) with seven grabs and 102 yards while second-year wide receiver Odieu Hilarie (Belle Glade, Fla.) caught five for 32 yards and the other score.
On the ground junior running back Gary Quarles (Cottondale, Ala.) notched just 40 yards but put two in the endzone to round out the day’s touchdowns.
Defensively, junior Marcus Cushine (Broward County, Fla.) got to the quarterback twice for a pair of sacks totaling 15 yards and redshirt-senior linebacker Quantravis Kelly (Montgomery, Ala.) racked up 10 tackles, seven solo and a pair for loss. Senior linebacker Armoni Holloway (Pinson, Ala.) and junior corner Ja’Marian Green (Belle Glade, Fla.) each had six tackles, the latter all solo, and redshirt-senior Amari Holloway (Pinson, Ala.) came up with a key blocked punt.
THE STATS – ALABAMA STATE
Chris Scott went 13-of-28 under center for 89 yards and a touchdown to pace ASU while Ezra Gray totaled 101 yards out of the backfield on 19 carries. He was joined by Merritt with 47 yards and a score and Jahod Booker had five grabs and 58 yards. Jefferson rounded out the offense with the only receiving touchdown of the day.
Defensively, Irshaad Davis racked up nine tackles and split a sack with Andrew Ogletree, who had 1.5 TFLs. Christian Clark added five tackles and Jake Howard had four, one for loss.
Alabama A&M will close out the regular season on Saturday, April 24 when they head to Mississippi Valley State for a 3 p.m. kickoff. The result of that contest will help decide where the Bulldogs will play for their second ever SWAC Championship on Saturday, May 1 – either in Pine Bluff, Arkansas or the friendly confines of Louis Crews Stadium.
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