The Tennessee State University Tigers staged a furious fourth quarter comeback to claim a 24-14 victory over the Alabama State University Hornets in the 17th John Merritt Classic in Nissan Stadium Sunday night. TSU legend Ed “Too Tall” Jones was honored during the coin toss and at the halftime of the game.
The Tigers (1-0) exploded on both sides of the ball as they outscored the Hornets 21-0 in the fourth quarter after trailing 14-3 after the first three quarters. 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 their first touchdown of the game on the third play of the fourth quarter when 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 got the ball back less than a minute later when defensive end Latrelle Lee forced the first fumble of the quarter. TSU took just three plays to travel 36 yards to take their first lead at 17-14 on a 12-yard run by running back Tom Smith.
The Big Blue defense got the ball back for the offense when safety Javon Brandon caused another turnover. The Tigers extended their lead to ten at 24-14 when running back Telvin Hooks crossed the goal line from five yards out with 6:15 remaining. The Tigers then limited the Hornets to just seven more plays over three possessions to secure the victory.
“This is a different team, and I liked what I saw from it tonight,” TSU Head Coach Rod Reed said. “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 finished with 330 yards on 81 plays. Ackerman-Carter was 20-37 passing for 188 yards with an interception and a touchdown. He 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 with six tackles (one for loss), and he forced a fumble and recovered another. Patrick Smith led all Tiger receivers with six catches for 64 yards.
Official attendance for the game was 20,055, the largest for the Merritt Classic since 25,209 (against Southern) in 2011. It is 11th time in the event’s 17-year history that attendance has been more than 20,000.
The Tigers move to 5-1 in season openers under Head Coach Rod Reed. TSU moves to 11-2 all-time versus Alabama State (3-0 in their Merritt Classic matchups), and 12-5 overall in the John Merritt Classic against all opponents.
The Tigers are in Memphis against Jackson State in the Southern Heritage Classic on Saturday, Sept. 12 at 6:00 pm CDT in the Liberty Bowl. Follow them live on WVOL 1470 AM.