NASHVILLE --- Tennessee State started its 2004 football season in successful and impressive fashion by rolling past Alabama A&M 42-7 in the Sixth Annual John Merritt Classic in the Coliseum Saturday night.
The Tigers won their sixth straight Merritt Classic. TSU also snapped a two-game losing streak against A&M which had slipped past the Tigers each of the past two seasons.
TSU senior All-American running back Charles Anthony began his senior season in a stellar way, rushing for a career-high 202 yards on 26 carries. Anthony's previous high of 194 yards came in last season's finale against Murray State.
"We came out tonight and got off to a good start and that was a key for us," said TSU head coach James Reese. "We made some big plays on each side of the ball that helped us set the tone early."
Along with Anthony's performance, TSU had other offensive players step up to play big roles in the victory. Quarterback Bryson Rosser was 14-24-0 for 164 passing yards and a pair of TD's. Ivan Burley, one of the players who has stepped into a receiver's spot, had three catches for 79 yards and one TD. A 56-yard catch helped set up another score.
TSU scored twice within a span of one minute and nine seconds in the first quarter to jump to a 14-0 lead. TSU marched 48 yards in five plays with the season's first score coming on a 6-yard pass from Bryson Rosser to Fred Burnette.
The Tiger defense then got into the scoring act as Darnell Ray stepped in front Johnny Keith pass and returned it 43 yards for a TD. Joey Hudak's PAT made the score 14-0 at the 4:22 mark.
A&M answered with a quick four-play, 66-yard drive that concluded with a 7-yard run by Nic Luke.
TSU scored on a 1-yard run by Anthony on the second play of the second quarter to conclude a 72-yard scoring drive. A 56-yard pass from Rosser to Burley was a big play in the drive.
TSU stretched its lead to 28-7 with 11:15 left as Rosser hooked up with Burley on a 14 yard drive. Aaron Strong's interception had given the Tigers the ball at the A&M 30-yard line.
The Tigers added two TD's in the second half while keeping the Bulldogs out of the end zone. Anthony had a 30-yard scoring run near the five-minute mark of the third period. The Tigers final score came on a 20-yard pass from reserve quarterback Riley Walker to Jarrett Morrow with 6:16 remaining.
TSU finished the game with 355 yards total offense while the Bulldogs had 325 total yards. The Tigers did not commit a turnover while forcing four pass interceptions. Along with Ray and Strong, Paul Thomas and Justin Williams each had pickoffs. Thomas' interception stopped a scoring threat at the Tigers 8-yard line on the game's first drive.