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Alabama State pulls away from Alabama A&M, 31-16 in 82nd Magic City Classic

Alabama State quarterback Damon Stewart (17) sets up to throw during the Magic City Classic college football game between Alabama A&M and Alabama State in Birmingham, Ala., Saturday, Oct. 28, 2023. (Vasha Hunt | preps@al.com)

Andrew Hammond | ahammond@al.com

The 2023 edition of the Magic City Classic, much like the 2022 version, once again came down to a few pivotal plays, only this time things were decided much earlier.

Alabama State used key plays at the end of the first half and the beginning of the second half to pull away from Alabama A&M in the 82nd edition of the Magic City Classic, 31-16.

After a sleepy and penalty-filled first quarter, the fireworks at Legion Field started to fly. Alabama A&M (4-4, 2-3) grabbed their first, and only lead of the day with a 45-yard touchdown from Xavier Lankford to Terrell Gardner with 19 seconds left in the first half.

Just a few plays later, Alabama State (4-3, 3-2) had the football just past midfield as Hornets quarterback Damon Stewart launched a 47-yard pass towards the end zone just as the first half expired. His halftime Hail Mary ended up in the hands of Kisean Johnson to give the Hornets a 17-14 lead at intermission.

Following a Hornets turnover, the Bulldogs got into position to regain the lead but the Hornets defense forced a sack of Lankford which put the Bulldogs in position to kick a field goal. Victor Barbosa’s 47-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Tyree Sunders, and returned for a touchdown by James Burgess, making the score 24-14.

In a matter of minutes, Alabama A&M was in position to help produce a dramatic sequel to 2022′s Classic only to have the Hornets literally block any opportunity of a Bulldog victory.

Alabama State’s effort in all three facets of the game was the difference as the Hornets reached the end zone with two special teams scores, one on offense, and picked up an interception and fumble recovery. Linebacker Colston Adams led ASU with 12 tackles, four of them solo, while Demarkus Cunningham tallied seven tackles, six of which were solo.

In addition to blocked field goals turning into points, the Hornets picked up some points in the punt return game, thanks to Robert McMinn who opened the scoring with a 48-yard punt return for a touchdown in the first quarter.

Lankford, Alabama A&M’s signal caller had two scores on the afternoon with a rushing and passing touchdown. He finished with 237 yards passing and the Bulldogs with a team-high 26 rushing yards.

After seeing four-straight wins on the A&M side, State has now won two in a row in the series and also rides a three-game winning streak this season. Alabama State will look to extend their streak to four games as they host Grambling State, Alabama A&M looks to get back on the winning side as they host division leader, Florida A&M.