NASHVILLE --- The Tennessee State football team got the 2003 season off to a successful note by rolling to a 37-20 victory over South Carolina State in the fifth annual John Merritt Classic on Saturday night. A thunderstorm and heavy rain delayed the start of the contest by one hour and 35 minutes.
However, the Tigers were up to the task, building a 16-0 lead by halftime and coming through with big plays in the final half to delight the fans who braved the elements and long delay to see TSU net the win.
?It was a good start for us,? said TSU head coach James Reese. ?We did some things very well, but we also know that we must improve in areas and cut down on our mistakes.
The Tigers out gained the visiting Bulldogs 478-278 in total yardage. The much-improved Tiger defense scored the season's first TD. Almonte Duncan intercepted a pass deflected by Robert Brown and went three yards into the end zone to make the score 10-0 at the 3:20 mark of the opening period. Joey Hudak had earlier given TSU a 3-0 lead on a 34-yard field goal just more than a minute earlier.
Junior running back Charles Anthony had scoring runs of one yard in the second quarter and had a 62-yard score on a middle screen play earlier in the fourth. Anthony capped off TSU's scoring with a 51-yard run with 7:27 remaining.
SCSU scored with five seconds left in the third period on a two-yard run by Coty Martin. The Bulldogs added fourth-period tallies on a 15-yard interception by Dreak Pooler and a six-yard run by reserve quarterback Brett Young.
Five players had three receptions each for TSU. C.J. Johnson led the way with 119 yards and Ronald Jackson was just shy of the century mark with 98 yards. Anthony had 117 yards rushing on 20 attempts and had 77 yards on his three receptions.
Quarterback Riley Walker set a new Merritt Classic record with 365 yards, completing 17-33-1 and the one TD. Walker was named game MVP and shared Most Valuable Offensive Player honors with Charles Anthony. Duncan was the Defensive Most Valuable Player.
The game finished just before midnight at the Coliseum. TSU plays at Alabama A&M next Saturday.