MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - A year after losing 14-6 in the inaugural Labor Day Classic, the Alabama State Hornets would sting back in 2018. Alabama State (1-0) got the better of Tuskegee (0-1) this year as it took overtime to decide the second Labor Day Classic.
The Hornets won 26-20 in a thriller that saw ASU fight back and tie the game three separate times.
"Our fans and our students deserve it," said Alabama State head football coach Donald Hill-Eley. "Our guys played hard for their student body, they've been supporting us through all the ups and downs and this win is for them, it's for our administration, our supporters."
The Golden Tigers of Tuskegee opened the scoring early. On the first drive of the season, Justice Owens scored from 13 yards out.
DJ Pearson and Alabama State answered back in the second quarter. Pearson connected with Tryek Allen for 68 yards and the score to tie things up at seven.
Tuskegee's Kenny Gant saw the end zone off a screen pass to push Tuskegee back out front. The missed PAT meant the Hornets were only down by six, but could not take advantage of a 1st and goal situation after intercepting Tuskegee quarterback Jamarcus Ezell.
The defense of the Golden Tigers held up, stopping the Hornets and forcing a field goal to keep Alabama State down by three.
The ASU defense would be on display again just before the half. With 12 seconds to play ASU defensive back Dennis Roberts intercepted Ezell in the end zone to keep Tuskegee from scoring going into the break.
The Hornets kept the pressure on all game. The second half kickoff was returned 72 yards to the Tuskegee 22 to put ASU in prime position to once again take the lead. Another Tuskegee defensive stand would force an ASU field goal to tie things at 13.
Halfway through the third, Tuskegee pushed back out front. Taurean Taylor, a freshman running back from Decatur, Georgia, scored from 15 yards out to announce his presence in this rivalry.
Going into the fourth quarter, Donald Hill-Eley found his team still in position to make a game-changing play. It happened.
After Tuskegee was seemingly about to put the game away, Peyton Ramzy fumbled the ball into the end zone for a touchback. Alabama State would capitalize.
Alabama State junior running back Ezra Gray thought he'd brought the Hornets back on a huge 43-yard touchdown catch and run, but replay determined he stepped out of bounds. Alabama State moved the ball inside the Golden Tiger 10, where Pearson took things into his own hands.
Pearson rushed in from 9 yards out and the extra point knotted the score at 20 all with five minutes to play.
Neither team was able to win it in regulation and things shifted to overtime. With no game clock, Alabama State won the coin toss and opted to go on defense first - a move that would pay off.
Willie Slater's Tuskegee team saw their first possession end in the form of a blocked field goal, which meant that Alabama State could win it with one score.
Where Gray stepped out of bounds when he had the chance to tie the game, he would not do so in OT with a chance to win.
On the Hornets' first play, Gray took a hand-off out of the shotgun formation 25 yards around the left end for the score and the Hornets' win.
In Donald Hill-Eley's first full season as head coach of the Hornets, ASU had taken down of of its biggest rivals. Gray delivered ASU's first win over Tuskegee since the 2011 Turkey Day Classic.
"Anytime you're going against a team with tradition and who know how to win, it's not going to be a blowout," said Eley. "You gone have to continue to punch punch punch, and we kept punching until it was over."
"We had some key penalties at key times that turned into scores, and then we had some mental mistakes that hurt us really bad, we had some missed assignments that hurt us really bad but you can expect that the first game," said Tuskegee head football coach Willie Slater.
Next up for ASU is a trip to Jordan-Hare Stadium. The Hornets will face the No. 9 Auburn Tigers (1-0) at 6:30 p.m. next Saturday. Meanwhile, Willie Slater and his Tuskegee team will take on Albany State University in the Whitewater Classic next Saturday at 4 p.m.