Nashville, Tenn. - The Tennessee State University Tigers (0-1) opened the 2009 football season with a 24-7 loss to Alabama A&M (1-0) in the 11th Annual John Merritt Classic (JMC) at LP Field in front of a crowd of 23, 871.
TSU moves to 7-4 in the JMC with AAMU holding the classic series between the teams, 4-2.
Offensively, TSU finished with 191 total yards, eight penalties for 89 yards while only converting 4-of-14 third down conversions. The Tigers' offense struggled completing 14-of-38 passes with two interceptions.
Starting quarterback Dominic Grooms went 4-of-8 passing for 42 yards before going down with an injury in the third quarter. Reserve quarterback Jeremy Perry could not find a rhythm connecting only 10-of-30 passes for 136 yards while throwing two interceptions.
Preston Brown in his first career start collected 10 carries for 12 yards with Donte' Thomas averaging 5.7 yards on three carries for 17 yards. Eight Tigers managed receptions with Jeremy Broadway and Joseph Hills leading with three a piece combining for 78 yards.
The Bulldogs totaled 409 yards of offense holding the advantage in time of possession by more than 12 minutes. AAMU running back Ulysses Banks recorded 121 yards rushing on 25 carries for a 4.8-yard average.
The Tigers fell behind 14-0 after AAMU scored on their first two drives with Kevin Atkins throwing touchdown passes to Thomas Harris and Todd Leichtfuss. Atkins connected on five of his first six passes resulting in a Harris 11-yard touchdown to cap a nine-play drive for 66 yards. Harris finished with four receptions to lead all receivers. Leichtfuss scored on a nine-yard toss to end a seven play, 56-yard drive.
Atkins was named the game's offensive MVP completing 19-of-28 passes with one interception for 232 yards and three touchdowns. Atkins also posted 11 carries for 41 yards.
The Tigers' defense was responsible for TSU's only score of the night when Eugene Clifford returned a school record 78-yard fumble late in the first quarter. The score came courtesy of a Marcus Snow forced fumble on a sack. Clifford's score narrowed the lead, 14-7. Clifford finished with seven tackles (5 solo, 2 assists). Anthony Levine led all defenders with eight tackles (6 solo, 2 assists) and was named the defensive MVP.
Late in the second quarter, AAMU scored 10 unanswered points. Atkins connected a 13-yard pass to Rashad Johnson completing a 88-yard drive. With less than two minutes remaining, an interception by Korey Morrison set up a 30-yard AAMU field goal by Jeremy Licea increasing the Bulldogs' lead at the half, 24-7. Licea's score would be the last of the evening for both teams as the second half was scoreless.
Afu Okosun led the Bulldogs' defense with six tackles (5 solo, 1 assist) including two for losses and one sack. The Bulldogs finished with four sacks including eight tackles for losses for a total of 37 yards.
Next up, the Tigers will face Jackson State in the 20th Annual Southern Heritage Classic in Memphis, Tenn. on September 12th. Kick-off is scheduled for 6 p.m.