Tennessee State Game Notes | Alabama State Game Notes
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Tigers are set to open the 2015 season as they play host to the 17th John Merritt Classic on Sunday evening at 6:00 p.m. at Nissan Stadium. Tennessee State will return to the roots of the JMC as they battle Alabama State. The Hornets and the Tigers played in the first two games of the classic, with TSU claiming both contests - 41-8 in 1999 and 39-8 in 2000.
The game can be heard on WVOL 1470 AM with Greg Pogue providing play-by-play, Albert Dawson bringing analysis and Gary Dawson from the sideline. Pregame will begin at 5:30 p.m. The Ohio Valley Conference Digital Network (OVCDN) will stream the JMC. Howard Gentry, Jr. and former TSU Tiger Daniel Fitzpatrick will provide coverage.
The game will mark the 13th meeting between the two squads, dating back to 1928, with TSU holding a 10-2 all-time advantage. ASU won the first meeting 6-0, only to see the Tigers reel off 10 straight wins in the series; outscoring the Hornets 377-92. Alabama State broke the streak with a 27-21 win over the Big Blue last year in Montgomery.
Head Coach Rod Reed enters his sixth season at the helm of the Tigers. During that time period he has posted a 32-27 record, including a 24-13 mark over the last three campaigns. TSU is 4-1 in season openers under Reed, including wins over Alabama A&M, Southern, Florida A&M and Edward Waters. The lone blemish is a 12-9 loss at the hands of Bethune-Cookman, and then head coach and current ASU skipper, Brian Jenkins.
The Tigers completed their third consecutive non-losing season by finishing 6-6 in 2014. They will look to continue their recent success with a youthful and exuberant squad. The new faces on defense are tasked with continuing the tradition of being one of the best units in the country. Seniors Dinsdale Jackson and Bernell Brooks provide a solid base and leadership for the 2015 addition. As a junior, Jackson collected 39 tackles, 3.5 for loss, two sacks and created three quarterback hurries. From the backfield, Brooks completed the year with 23 tackles, two interceptions and six pass breakups.
On the offensive side, the line provides security as the position with the most familiarity. Juniors Kevin Kenton and Jassaman Dunker join senior Shaq Anthony as returners from a season ago. Dunker saw the most time playing in all 12 games, starting in 11, while Anthony saw action in 11 games, starting six. Kenton appeared in eight contests, but earned the starting role at center for the last three games of the season.
The line is currently riding a streak of 196 pass attempts without surrendering a sack, dating back to early in the second quarter on October 18, 2014 against UT Martin. Their assignment this season is to provide time for newly appointed signal-caller O’Shay Ackerman-Carter. The freshman received the nod over junior Ronald Butler, but Coach Reed enjoys the experience of Butler and plans to use the talented quarterback throughout the season.
The running game will highlight a pair of seniors in Telvin Hooks and Tom Smith. The duo battled injuries in 2014, keeping each out of four games. When on the gridiron, Smith scored six touchdowns and averaged 4.5 yards per carry while Hooks crossed the end line once and ran for 3.3 yards per attempt.
On special teams, kicker Lane Clark returns for his second season with the Big Blue. Clark led the team in scoring with 50 points after taking over the fulltime kicking duties early in the season. The sophomore converted eight field goals on 15 attempts and was 26 of 28 on extra points.
Jenkins is in his first season at ASU after spending five years as the head coach at Bethune-Cookman, where he totaled a 46-14 record and won or tied for four Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference titles. Jenkins is 1-1 in his career versus Coach Reed and Tennessee State.
ASU finished 7-5 in 2014 and returns seven starters on offense and six on defense, as a part of 43 returning letter-winners. Leading the way is senior quarterback Daniel Duhart who completed 176 passes in 323 attempts for 2,318 yards and 11 touchdowns. One of Duhart’s favorite targets returns in the form of senior DeMario Bell who finished second on the team in receptions with 28. Bell amassed 625 yards and crossed the end line four times. All-SWAC senior offensive lineman Damian Love will provide protection, coming back as a three-year starter for ASU.
Defensively, the Hornets return a formidable trio in line backers Kourtney Berry and Daerius Washington, along with defensive lineman Roderick Henderson. Berry enters his junior season after leading ASU with 128 tackles, 12.5 for loss, three sacks and two forced fumbles. Washington tallied 98 tackles, second only to Berry, notched four sacks and led the team with 15 tackles for loss. From the line, Henderson finished seventh on the team in tackles with 41, 11 for loss. The three defensive standouts were tops for ASU last season in tackles for loss.