Alabama State, Alabama A&M Ready for Magic City
Written by Roscoe Nance, Special to BlackAmericaWeb.com Saturday, 29 October 2011 05:35
More than traditional bragging rights will be stake Saturday when instate SWAC rivals Alabama State and Alabama A&M clash in the 70th Magic City Classic at Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama – a whole lot more.
Both are in the top six of the Black College national rankings with Alabama State (6-1, 6-0 SWAC), which is also in first place in the SWAC East Division, sitting at No. 1 and Alabama A&M (5-2, 4-1 SWAC), a game and half behind the Hornets in the division race, holding the No. 6 spot.
A victory for Alabama State would give the Hornets the division crown and keep them on pace for the second Black College National Championship in school history. If Alabama A&M wins, the Bulldogs would be in control of their destiny, with conference games against Alcorn State, Jackson State and Prairie View A&M remaining.
"It’s kind of what you expect and hope the Magic Classic would be," Alabama A&M coach Anthony Jones says, "two of the top teams in all of Black College Football battling it out."
Alabama State and Alabama A&M first played in 1924; their game has been an uninterrupted tradition since 1945 and has been played at Legion Field since 1945. Alabama A&M has a 37-34-3 edge in the series. The Bulldogs have dominated in recent years, winning 10 of the last 12 games. Alabama State ended a five-game losing streak in the Classic last year with a 31-10 victory.
That win propelled the Hornets to the East division title and a berth in the SWAC Championship Game, where they lost to Texas Southern. It also got them started on a nine-game conference regular season winning streak that is still active. Another win against the Bulldogs would ensure that the Hornets will end the regular season exactly where they hoped to be when the season began.
"There is a lot riding on this game," Alabama State coach Reggie Barlow says. "We haven’t shied away from where we are when we talk to the guys. Our goal and vision is to have opportunity to be SWAC champions and get back to the (SWAC) championship game."
History says Saturday's game will be a close contest. Twelve of the last 14 games have been decided by eight points or less. Alabama State’s 21-point win last season was the widest margin of victory for either team since the Hornets won 26-0 in 1997.
This year’s Classic could well be a close, low-scoring contest since both teams have played solid defense throughout the season. Alabama State leads the conference in fewest points allowed per game (16.1), and Alabama A&M is third (17.7).
The Bulldogs have been more adept shutting down opponents – they are third in the conference in total defense (312.6 yards a game) and second in rushing defense (106.7 yards a game) and sacks (24).
Alabama State, on the other hand, has excelled at making big plays. The Hornets lead the FCS in turnovers forced with 28, and they are second in interceptions with 17. Junior safety Kejuan Riley is No. 2 in the nation with seven interceptions.
"That’s what they do - create turnovers," Jones says. "Their team relies on them creating turnovers, and they’ve been efficient doing so. They make you pay. Riley is one hell of center fielder. If you make a bad read, he makes you pay. You can make good read, he has such incredible range. He’s smart. He has taken his game to another level. One of our goals is to take care of the ball. But that’s easier said than done."
The main concern for Alabama State's defense will be dealing with running back Kaderius Lacey, the third-leading rusher in the conference with 544 yards. Lacey, a 6-0, 218-pound junior, is a punishing runner who wears down defenses. Jones says that Lacey’s running style is similar to that of Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris. Like Harris, Lacey is a big back and both are upright runners who cover more ground than they appear to when they carry the ball.
"He’s not a speed back," Jones says of Lacey. "He’s not going to beat you with speed. He has to beat that hammer and keep pounding."
Lacey is also durable. He leads the SWAC with 142 rushing attempts. He carried the ball 30 times against Grambling State earlier this season and gained a career-high 178 yards.
"He runs that ball hard," Barlow says. "He’s physical, and he blocks well in the passing game. When he has the ball he’s a load. There is no such thing as one guy bringing him down. We got our work cut out for us trying to bring him."
Alabama State's offense revolves around its passing that features quarterback Greg Jenkins and record-setting senior wide receiver Nick Andrews. The Hornets average 219.4 yards a game through the air. Andrews is the No. 1 receiver in the SWAC with 54 catches for 769 yards. He has 2,429 receiving yards for his career needs 108 yards to break Barlow’s career record (2,536). Andrews earlier this season set career records for receptions (178) and touchdowns (26).
"They have got some guys making plays, and he’s at the top of the list," Jones says. "He’s a smart player. He has excellent skills, good speed and great hands. One of the things you can’t measure is his desire to be the absolute best. You can tell by the way he makes plays."
North Carolina A&T (4-3, 3-1 MEAC) at Norfolk State (6-2, 4-1 MEAC): The MEAC’s two surprise teams square off with first place in the balance. Both suffered their first conference losses last weekend. Regardless of who wins, the MEAC race will still be muddled. Morgan State also has only one conference loss; five other teams have two losses each, and light teams are within a game of first place. Defense has been the hallmark for North Carolina A&T and Norfolk State. Both are among the statistical leaders in the FCS. North Carolina A&T is No. 7 against the run, allowing, 83.2 yards a game, and No. 4 in total defense, giving up 286.1 yards. Norfolk State is No. 14 in rushing defense (101.1 yards a game), No. 6 in total defense (292.7) and No. 8 in fewest points allowed (17.8). On offense, Norfolk State has the edge in passing, averaging 236.5 yards a game, second-best in the MEAC. Senior quarterback Chris Walley is the No. 2 passer in the conference with 218.5 yards a game. He leads the conference in passing yards with 1,748. The Aggies have the statistical advantage in the running game. They are No. 3 in the conference in rushing (173.4 yards), and senior running back Mike Mayhew leads the MEAC with 790 yards. Mayhew (112.9 yards a game) is the only runner in the conference who averages at 100 yards a game.
Clark Atlanta (2-6, 1-4 SIAC) at Tuskegee (2-5, 2-3 SIAC)
East Stroudsburg (1-7) at Cheyney (1-7)
Morgan State (4-3, 3-1 MEAC) at Delaware State (2-5, 0-4 MEAC)
South Carolina State (4-4, 3-2 MEAC) Howard (4-4, 3-2)
Lincoln (Pa.) (2-6) at Virginia University of Lynchburg (2-5)
West Virginia State (1-6) at West Virginia Wesleyan
Livingstone (1-7, 0-5 CIAA) at Saint Augustine's (3-5, 2-3 CIAA)
Virginia Union (4-4, 2-3 CIAA) at Virginia State (4-4, 3-3 CIAA)
Shaw (2-6, 2-3 CIAA) at Winston-Salem State (8-0, 6-0 CIAA)
Elizabeth City State (6-2, 4-1 CIAA) at Chowan (2-6, 1-4 CIAA)
Bowie State (4-4) at Shepherd (6-2)
Kentucky State (5-3, 2-3 SIAC) at Lane (3-5, 1-4 SIAC)
Central Missouri (5-3) at Lincoln (Mo.) (1-7)
Texas Southern (3-4, 1-4 SWAC) at Miss. Valley State (0-7, 0-8 SWAC)
Bacone (3-5) at Texas College (0-8)
Benedict (2-6, 1-3 SIAC) at Albany State (6-2, 4-1 SIAC)
Shorter (4-3) at Edward Waters (2-5)
Bethune-Cookman (4-3, 2-2 MEAC) at North Carolina Central (1-6, 0-4 MEAC)
Hampton (4-3, 2-2 MEAC) at Savannah State (1-6, 1-3 MEAC)
Grambling State (3-4, 2-3 SWAC) at Arkansas-Pine Bluff (4-3, 3-2 SWAC)
Jackson State (6-1, 4-1 SWAC) vs. Prairie View (4-3, 4-2 SWAC), Shreveport, La.
Fayetteville State (3-5, 3-2 CIAA) at Johnson C. Smith (4-4, 3-2 CIAA)
Alcorn State (2-4, 1-4 SWAC) at Southern (2-5, 2-3 SWAC)
Morehouse (6-2, 3-1 SIAC) at Fort Valley State (2-6, 2-3 SIAC)
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