John Merritt Classic Box Score
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee State used a furious fourth quarter comeback to claim a 24-14 victory over Alabama State in the 17th John Merritt Classic. A crowd of 22,455 showed up to Nissan Stadium for the Sunday night game.
Tennessee State (1-0) exploded on both sides of the ball as they outscored the Hornets 21-0 in the final stanza. The defense helped by forcing four fumbles and a three-and-out, giving the offense opportunities and great field position.
The Tigers broke through for its first touchdown of the game on the third play of the fourth quarter as O’Shay Ackerman-Carter hit Patrick Smith across the middle for a 19-yard touchdown. It was the first career touchdown for both players and brought TSU to within four points of ASU at 14-10 with 14:22 remaining in the contest.
The Tigers would get the ball back less than a minute later as defensive end Latrelle Lee forced the first fumble of the quarter. TSU would need just three plays to travel 36 yards and took its first lead of the game 17-14 on a 12-yard run by running back Tom Smith.
The Big Blue defense needed just 1:32 to hand the ball back over to the offense as safety Javon Brandon caused another turnover. The Tigers ate some time off the clock as they extended the lead to 24-14 as running back Telvin Hooks crossed the goal line from five yards out with 6:15 remaining on the clock.
The Tigers would limit the Hornets to just seven more plays over three possessions to secure the victory.
TSU would move the ball in the first half, only to come up short, scoring three points over the first 30 minutes. On the opening drive, the Tigers held to ball for ten plays, but was forced to punt.
Alabama State (0-1) wasted no time with its first possession as Daniel Duhart went over the top to Joshua Davis for an 82-yard touchdown pass.
Davis broke free over the middle of the field as Duhart hit him in stride. It was clear sailing for the sophomore wide out as the two TSU defenders ran into each other.
TSU tried to respond on the following drive, but had to start on its own three yard line after a fumble on the kickoff. The Tigers covered 75 yards on 16 plays, taking off 6:45 from the clock, but came up empty as Lane Clark missed a 39-yard field goal wide right.
Clark would redeem himself as he connected on a 31-yard field goal with one second remaining before halftime.
The Tigers trailed at halftime 7-3, despite controlling the ball for 21 minutes opposed to two seconds shy of nine minutes for ASU. During that time the Tigers ran 46 plays for 182 yards, while holding the Hornets to 142 yards on 21 plays.
After the big scoring play by ASU, the Big Blue defense allowed just 60 yards on 20 plays for an average of three yards per play.
In the third quarter, ASU received another big play to set up its second score of the game. Duhart found Lawrence Oliver over the middle for a 52-yard pass play. Two plays later, the Hornets would find the end zone as Duhart called his own number from a yard out to extend the ASU lead to 14-3.
On the game, the Hornets totaled 314 yards, but amassed 134 on the two big pass plays. The Tiger defense would hold ASU to 180 yards on 54 plays for the remainder of the game, good for 3.6 yards per play.
TSU finished with 330 yards on 81 plays. Ackerman-Carter was 20-37 for 188 yards with an interception and a touchdown. He also carried the ball nine times for 38 yards and was named Offensive MVP for his efforts.
Sophomore safety Javon Brandon was named Defensive MVP for the classic as he totaled six tackles, one for loss, and forced a fumble, while recovering another.
Patrick Smith led all Tiger receivers with six catches for 64 yards.
The Tigers will travel to Memphis on Saturday, Sept. 12 to face Jackson State in the Southern Heritage Classic.
Official attendance for the game was 20,055, which was the largest for the John Merritt Classic since 25,209 were in attendance when TSU took on Southern in 2011. It is 11th time in the event’s 17-year history that attendance has been more than 20,000.
TSU improves to 7-19 when trailing at the half under Head Coach Rod Reed and 5-21 when trailing after the third quarter under Reed.
The Tigers move to 5-1 in season openers under Head Coach Rod Reed.
TSU avenges last year’s 27-21 loss to the Hornets and moves to 11-2 versus Alabama State in the all-time series.
TSU has gone 3-0 versus ASU in the John Merritt Classic and 12-5 overall in the John Merritt Classic.
TSU improves to 392-141-19 versus HBCUs and 15-4 in the Rod Reed era.
TSU won the coin flip and elected to receive the opening kickoff.
TSU legend Ed “Too Tall” Jones was honored during the coin toss and halftime of the game.
The temperature was 88 degrees at kickoff.
Official kickoff was 6:02 p.m.
TSU converted a fourth-down conversion on the opening drive. TSU went 12-for-23 on fourth-down conversions last season.
With 2:30 left in the second quarter, TSU gave up its first sack of the season. The Tigers’ offensive line had gone 216 pass plays without yielding a sack dating back to last season.
The first sack of the season for TSU was recorded by sophomore defensive end Latrelle Lee in the third quarter. TSU finished the 2014 season fourth among FCS teams with 3.58 sacks per game.
TSU Head Coach Rod Reed
“This is a different team, and I liked what I saw from it tonight. We had some adversity early on, but we came in at halftime and made some adjustments. We didn’t panic as a staff, our players didn’t panic.”
TSU Offensive Coordinator Jeff Parker
“We just continued to stay with our game plan. The guys just made the adjustments at halftime. They gave us both a three-man front and a four-man front, and we made the adjustment and did a great job.”
-- On the fourth quarter comeback
“He did a great job. He held the ball a little long a couple of times, but he did an excellent job. He did as well as we expected.”
-- On freshman quarterback O’Shay Ackerman-Carter
TSU Defensive Coordinator Osita Alaribe
“I thought we started off slow. We gave up the big play at the beginning and settled down a little bit. Then we gave up another big play, but other than that, I thought the guys played well. A lot of these guys are playing in their first college football game today. I thought they persevered through the adversity that we faced with those two plays.”
-- On how the defense played
TSU red-shirt senior running back Tom Smith
“I think we came out pretty slow today, and we got together at the end of the game and came together as a team.”
-- On the offensive’s performance
“It’s a load off our shoulders. We had to show the world what we are about and we had to get it together. Now that we know we can play and beat anybody, we are ready for any challenge.”
-- On winning the first game of the season
TSU junior defensive tackle Rodney Edwards
“We started off slow and didn’t have a pass rush at first, but we figured it out and were able to get back there.”
-- On the defensive line
“We needed it. We needed the first win, and it’s great to get revenge from last year.”
-- On winning the season opener
“It feels like home. I’ve been playing here for three years, so I’m used to playing here, but it’s fun out there.”
-- On playing at Nissan Stadium