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Alabama State can call itself Magic City Classic champions once again. As you would expect, it didn't come easy.

The Hornets scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 23-yard pass from Dematrius Davis to Jeremiah Hixon and then held on as Alabama A&M came up four yards short of the potential tying touchdown. When the clock finally struck zero at Legion Field, Alabama State had a 24-17 victory and its first Magic City Classic win since 2017.

Eddie Robinson Jr., who was 3-1 against the Bulldogs as a player, won his first Classic as the Alabama State head coach. His first one had plenty of drama.

The winning touchdown came on a six-play, 81-yard drive that appeared to stall about the time it started. Three plays in, the Hornets faced a 3rd-and-20 from the ASU 9-yard line. Davis bought time by stepping up in the pocket and found a wide-open Darius Edmonds for 42 yards. Three plays later, they were in the end zone.

Alabama A&M (3-5 overall, 3-2 SWAC) had 1:56 to counter, and the Bulldogs almost did. Quarterback Quincy Casey threw 18 yards to Terrell Gardner and 16 yards to Cameron Young to get the drive moving. The Bulldogs faced a 4th-and-5 from the ASU 26-yard line and converted on a 17-yard pass from Casey to Micah White with 19 seconds left. After an incompletion, Casey threw a quick screen to Young, who had to reach behind him for the catch and lost his balance at the 4-yard line. The Bulldogs couldn't get another snap.

The game didn't start with the same excitement.

Alabama State (5-3 overall, 3-2 SWAC) controlled the early part of the game but didn't have a lot to show for it. The Hornets used an eight-play, 34-yard drive to take a 3-0 lead on a 49-yard field goal by Aubrey Grace with 47 seconds left in the first quarter. The drive started with a 26-yard pass from Dematrius Davis to Jaelyn Lay.

At that point, the Hornets' defense was dominating the Bulldogs' offense. They did it again on the next series, and Alabama A&M made a change at quarterback, inserting Quincy Casey in the game for starter Xavier Lankford on its following possession.

The move paid off quickly.

Casey got the ball to Cameron Young on a short route on first down. Young spun away from one defender, split two more defenders, and raced for 61 yards before being pulled down at the Hornet 10-yard line. A pair of Donovan Eaglin runs netted eight yards before Casey delivered a ball that Isiah Cox grabbed for the touchdown. The Bulldogs led 7-3.

On the next play from scrimmage, Davis tried to deliver a screen pass to the outside. Jamal Irby, a defensive lineman, shed his block, tipped the ball with his right hand, took a couple of strides before catching it, and ran six yards for the score. That quickly, the Bulldogs had a 14-3 lead.

It was just part of a sensational first half by the Alabama A&M defense. Alabama State had 67 yards in offense, with only 17 yards coming on the ground. The Hornets had 32 snaps, six first downs, and were 4-of-10 on third down. Alabama A&M had 197 yards on 29 plays, with 151 of it coming through the air.

Both offenses struggled early in the second half. A big mistake by the Bulldogs' special teams changed the complexion of the game. Alabama State's Dante Norris hustled down on punt coverage and caught the ball in the air after it caromed off Cox, who was back to return the punt for the Bulldogs. The Hornets started on the 23-yard line and eventually scored on a 9-yard pass from Davis to Kisean Johnson. Alabama State trailed 14-10.

After forcing a three-and-out, the Hornets were at it again. This time they put together an 8-play, 42-yard drive that ended with a 4-yard scoring run by Jacory Merritt with 13:56 left.

Alabama A&M was able to string together a clutch drive that ended with a game-tying 37-yard field goal by Victor Barbosa. That set up the exciting conclusion.

To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email steve.irvine@1819news.com.

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