HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Faced with the end of their season after 60 minutes, Alabama A&M (4-7, 4-4 SWAC) gave a preview of things to come as they rallied from down 17 in the fourth to stun Texas Southern (5-6, 4-4 SWAC) 24-20 and ruin their Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) title hopes in an NCAA Division I football game on Saturday, November 19.
With the way that earlier games had broke, TSU had the opportunity to clinch a spot in the league title game, only to have those hopes dashed by a 21-point fourth quarter that brought the Bulldogs to a .500 finish in the conference.
THE STATS - ALABAMA A&M
Junior quarterback Xavier Lankford (Pelham, Ala.) proved to be a true dual threat as he connected on 6-of-8 passes for 113 yards and a touchdown and devastated the Tigers on the ground, going for 76 yards and a pair of TDs on just seven carries. Redshirt-sophomore quarterback Quincy Casey (Memphis, Tenn.) was one third of that passing attack as he went 12-of-21 for 104 yards and freshman quarterback Ashley Tucker, Jr. (Los Angeles, Calif.) was 2-for-4 for 51 yards.
Sophomore wide receiver Keenan Hambrick (Athens, Ala.) had a career-day being on the receiving end of six of those passes, going for 139 yards. Senior wide out Cameron Young (Daphne, Ala.) added three catches for 36 yards and a key score while sophomore tailback Donovan Eaglin (Houston, Texas) pounded out 120 yards on 20 carries.
On the defensive side of the ball senior linebacker Dre Terry (Roanoke Rapids, N.C.) was an absolute force as he came away with a massive 16 tackles, 10 solo and one in the backfield, along with a forced fumble, pass breakup and quarterback hurry. He was joined by fellow wrecking crew member junior defensive end Zareon Hayes (Dillon, S.C.) with four tackles with half of those for loss and one sack.
It would be a defensive battle through the first half as the teams traded 10-play drives as part of a scoreless opening frame. The Bulldogs would start what would be a nine-play, 62-yard drive with just under a minute-and -half remaining and culminate in a 24-yard field goal by redshirt-freshman Victor Barbosa (Hialeah Gardens, Fla.) with 12:46 on the clock in the second.
Neither team would convert on their next drives before TSU got their offense rolling. That would take the form of a 10-play, 61-yard drive that saw Kevin Harris cap it with a one-yard plunge. Without their kicker, the Tigers would go for two and Andrew Body would drop the ball right in the breadbasket of AJ Bennet as he was back pedaling into the right corner of the endzone for an 8-3 lead. A&M's ensuing drive would end in a fumble but Texas Southern could do nothing with it as the clubs headed to the break with that eight-point margin.
The Bulldogs would prove turnover prone at the worst time as they opened the third with five plays and 47 yards before a Casey pass landed in the hands of Isaiah Hamilton in the endzone to squelch an opportunity to go ahead. It would be an opportunity that TSU would not allow to pass by as they moved the ball 85 yards in seven plays, including a 37-yard grab by Derek Morton. That drive would wrap with Body drilling Bennett for 20-yards to go up 14-3 following a failed two-point try.
The rest of the period would see no drive beyond seven plays and 30 yards but that would change dramatically in the fourth. Body broke free for a 36-yard run on the first play of their opening possession of the fourth, setting the stage two plays later for a 39-yard touchdown strike to Randy Masters to go up 20-3 following an intercepted two-point attempt. From there their offense would go in the witness protection program as it would not be heard from again.
That onslaught would begin on the very next possession as A&M mounted an eight-play, 67-yard drive that saw Tucker account for 54 yards. That included the big play of the stretch as he connected with Hambrick for 42 yards down to the Texas Southern 13-yard line. Four plays later Lankford would break through from five yards out to cut it to 20-10 with 10:51 to play.
With time not on their side the Bulldogs bought themselves some more six plays into a drive that had taken the Tigers down to the A&M 28-yard line. It would not be lucky number seven as Terry took care of that scoring threat on his own, ripping the ball free at the end of a 26-yard run by Body, sending the ball out of the back of the endzone for a touchback.
It would be a seminal moment in the game as it went from being put out of reach to A&M having 7:38 to work with. And work with it they did as Lankford lofted a ball to Hambrick that ended up 45-yards down field on a 2nd and 25. Two plays later he rifled a ball out to the flat to Young that went for 34 yards and a TD to cut it down to 20-17.
That drive covered 80 yards in five plays and just 1:23, leaving plenty of time to work with if Alabama A&M could get the ball back. They would manage that in three plays and 2:15, taking back over at their own 19-yard line with 3:57 to play.
Eaglin would open with a 20-yard scamper and the Bulldogs would benefit from a holding penalty as they moved the ball to the TSU 47. Following four plays of dink and dunk to move to the 38-yard line, A&M found themselves facing a game-deciding 4th and 1. It would be game-deciding – but not the way the Tigers had hoped as, instead of just picking up the yard to keep the drive alive, Lankford straight up ended it as he broke free for 38-yards to take a 24-20 lead with 55 seconds left.
Tison Hill, on in relief of Body, would be under constant pressure on that final drive, beginning with a hurry by Terry and ending with a four-yard sack by Hayes on fourth down, clinching the massive come-from-behind victory and ending TSU's SWAC title game hopes in the process.
THE STATS – TEXAS SOUTHERN
Body echoed Lankford's performance as a dual threat as he went 12-of-24 for 191 yards and a pair of TDs under center and carried the ball 15 times for 149 yards. Morton snagged five balls for 90 yards to lead the receiving corps while Masters and Bennett each added a score. Harris rounded out the offense with a touchdown among his five carries for 33 yards.
Calvin Henderson led the defense with 13 tackles, seven solo, and Tarik Cooper registered eight with an interception and QB hurry. They were joined by Michael Akins with seven tackles, 2.5 in the backfield, and Hamilton with a 15-yard pick.
The Bulldogs will now head into the 2023 campaign with strong performances from all three active quarterbacks and one of the most impressive performances during the 2022 season in the books.
Prior to the game, Alabama A&M honored 16 seniors for their contributions to Bulldog football. Those included Aadreekis Conner (Port Gibson, Miss.), Saeed Holt (Pittsburgh, Pa.), Diata Burns (Columbia, Md.), Terry, Isiah Cox (Jasper, Ala.), Terrell Gardner (Birmingham, Ala.), Jerry Parra (San Diego, Calif.), Richard Calloway (Orlando, Fla.), Farrell Hester II (Las Vegas, Nev.), Taylor Sanders (Livingston, Ala.), Jamal Irby (Mobile, Ala.), Cortez Herrin (Saluda, S.C.), Samson Jackson (Tarpon Springs, Fla.), Anthony Howard (Birmingham, Ala.), Kendric Johnson (New Market, Ala.) and Kristofer Wilkins (Manvel, Texas).