With over 15,000 in attendance at Nissan Stadium, the 18th annual John Merritt Classic game resulted in a Tennessee State University pounding of the Golden Lions of Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Final score, 44-0. The Tigers claimed its first shutout win since 2013.
TSU sophomore quarterback O’Shay Ackerman-Carter was the main character in this plot setting. Although a bit rusty out of the gate, O’Shay finally got it going, finishing 18 of 32 for 259 yards and two touchdowns. He threw one interception as well, but the Tiger faithful couldn’t care less about that. By the time Ackerman-Carter turned the offense over to backup Ronald Butler, he had secured the Tigers’ fate by being up 37-0. Butler, a senior and one of the best athletes on the team, recently switched positions to wide receiver. He caught his first career reception midway through the second quarter. It just happened to be a 44-yard TD pass from O’Shay. Shortly after replacing O’Shay, he ran a draw play up the gut for a 10-yard touchdown.
Ackerman-Carter was awarded the offensive player of the game. He spread the ball out to seven different receivers. Patrick Smith had six catches for 100 yards and a touchdown. Freshman Steven Newbold had five catches for 74 yards. Andrew Knox added three catches for 24 yards. Of course Butler had his big catch. Mazio Rhodes had a catch for 11 yards, and running backs Erick Evans and Sabree Curtis each had a catch.
The Golden Lions managed just 168 yards of total offense (119 passing) on 57 plays. That was the fewest yards an opponent had gained on TSU since 2014. The Tigers finished with 461 yards of total offense, with 202 on the ground alone. They held the Golden Lions to just 49 yards rushing.
Brandon Duncan finished the game with 154 yards for Arkansas-Pine Bluff. He had 119 yards through the air, completing 19 of 34 attempts. Duncan also recorded 35 yards on the ground.
Both, Willie Young and Cody Swain led the Golden Lions receivers. Swain finished with 32 yards on five receptions. Young with 31 yards on three receptions. Jamal Odom led the defense with eight tackles, followed by Rico Merriweather with six and Tashad Charity with five. The Golden Lions were flagged multiple times and couldn’t tame the Tigers’ roar. Clearly, the bright spot for Arkansas-Pine Bluff was its band.
Tennessee State had 23 first downs to just eight for the Golden Lions. Erick Evans was the leading rusher for the Tigers. He finished with 67 yards on 13 carries and a score. Defensive end Ebo Ogundeko, a junior transfer from Clemson, was named defensive player of the game. He wreaked havoc all night, finishing with 4 tackles and two sacks. Lane Clark connected on 3 of 4 field goals for the game. A 47-yard bomb, a 23-yard field goal, and a 38-yarder. He missed a 43-yard attempt toward the end of the game.
TSU takes on the Tigers of Jackson State this weekend for the 27th Southern Heritage Classic in Memphis. It ought to be a classic, as always.