BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WSFA) - The Alabama State Hornets nearly pulled off the upset in front of a near-record crowd at Legion Field Thursday night. A late interception thrown by the Hornets (0-1) doomed them as they fell 24-19 to the UAB Blazers (1-0) in front of 39,165 - the third largest home crowd in UAB school history.
It was a sloppy game all around by both teams with several turnovers and costly penalties, costly penalties that wiped out pick-sixes by both teams in the first half, including one coming with ASU trailing just 14-13 at the time.
Junior quarterback Kha’Darris Davis took over for starter DJ Pearson, who left the game in the first quarter with a leg injury. In Pearson’s place for ASU, Davis went 18/31 for 112 yards and two touchdowns.
Durna Bell had a 67-yard touchdown run to tie things up at 7. Davis’s first touchdown pass went for 16 yards and gave the Hornets a temporary 13-7 lead over the Blazers in the first quarter.
The Blazers would answer on the ensuing kickoff as Hunter Hanson’s kick was returned 98 yards to the house by UAB’s Myron Mitchell.
After UAB added a field goal to make their lead 17-13, and then extended their lead after Joshua Hill fumbled a punt, turning the ball back over to the reigning Conference USA champions. The Blazers would capitalize off that fumbled punt return in just three plays. Tyler Johnston III’s 23-yard touchdown toss was pulled down by Kendall Parnham. Johnston would finish just 8 of 19 for 114 yards and that lone touchdown toss.
After half, Alabama State soon applied the pressure again. With 5:31 to play, Davis’s second touchdown pass of the game connected with Joshua Knight for a 7-yard score. Donald Hill-Eley’s decision to go for the two point conversion would be unsuccessful and kept the score at 24-19, which would be the score entering the fourth quarter.
Both teams traded punts to open the fourth before Alabama State would make a serious push to take back the lead. On a drive that began with 10:51 left in the final quarter of play, the Hornets flew down the field in just two plays. Bell gained 24 of his 112 rushing yards on a second down play that put the Hornets on the UAB 5. After a UAB timeout, the Blazers stopped Alabama State three straight rushing plays to force 4th and goal. After Hill-Eley called timeout, the Hornets put their offense back on the field looking to take the lead, but the UAB Blazers would stand tall, successfully completing the goal line stand.
It was then UAB’s objective to get out of the end zone and chew clock. They succeeded, going on a 10-play, 6-minute 9-second drive that was eventually stalled by a huge third-down stop by the ASU defense.
With three minutes to play with and a possession starting at its own 17, it was time for Alabama State to go to work. Would this be the drive to push the Hornets over the Blazers, stunning the defending Conference USA champs?
It started with a 3-yard completion, and then a controversial 6-yard rush to bring up third down. Then, an incomplete pass on third down to force 4th and 1. The Hornets going for it, gave the ball back to Bell who bulldozed ahead for four yards and an Alabama State first down. 2:54 to play Davis’s first down pass fell incomplete. His second down pass was short of the sticks but a personal foul penalty against the Blazers gave ASU an automatic first down. At the UAB 46, on second down, ASU saw their dream at spoiling UAB’s 2019 season opener squashed. Davis’s pass went through the hands of its intended receiver and hit off his helmet, deflecting into the air and intercepted by UAB’s Will Boler. The Blazers would kneel the clock out to end the game, evening the all-time series at 2-2.
After the game, Hill-Eley said simply the mistakes were too much.
“Too many miscues, we didn’t capitalize when we had our opportunities but we’ll learn from it,” he said.
But still, Hill-Eley was proud of how his Hornets team played in all three phases of the game.
Next up is the Labor Day Classic showdown with Tuskegee. The Hornets and Golden Tigers will kick things off from ASU Stadium at 5 p.m. next Saturday.