For Alabama State football, there was no time to reflect on the first 10 games. Only time to dwell on the last one.
By any measure, coach Eddie Robinson Jr. led the Hornets to a successful first season. They won six games for the first time since 2015. They fielded one of the SWAC’s best defenses, a unit that kept them in the game against every non-FBS team they played. And they won the biggest game on their schedule, the Magic City Classic, snapping a four-game losing streak to Alabama A&M.
But ASU (6-5, 4-4 SWAC) will have a sour taste in its mouth for a while after its finish to the season, which included a 21-14 loss to Florida A&M and a 19-14 defeat at the hands of Arkansas-Pine Bluff in Thursday’s Turkey Day Classic.
“There’s nothing I could tell them at this point that would make the loss feel better,” Robinson said. “… I can get into the things we accomplished this year, but to lose the last game — I lost in the Super Bowl. It felt awful. We accomplished a lot, it didn’t matter.”
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It wasn’t just the loss, but the fashion in which it occurred. The last-place Golden Lions (3-8, 1-7) held the Hornets to just two touchdowns despite their season-high 497 yards, and drove the ball 72 yards in less than two minutes to take the lead on a Kayvon Britten touchdown with 49 seconds remaining.
Ending aside, the Turkey Day Classic was a microcosm of Alabama State’s entire season in some ways.
The Hornets moved the ball up and down the field, but struggled with consistency and didn’t always execute at critical moments. They played rock-solid defense, holding UAPB scoreless in the second half until its final touchdown. No SWAC team scored more than 26 points against them this season.
However, ASU paired its defense, ranked third in the SWAC in points allowed, with the conference’s 11th-ranked offense. The Hornets scored more than 24 points just once, against Bethune-Cookman on Nov. 5, and averaged 19 points per game.
“I think it’s pretty obvious, we got to score more points and we got to be more dynamic on offense,” Robinson said. “We have an identity on defense and special teams. We’ve been right there with more big plays in big games than bad. On offense, we got to get back to what do we do well, and being consistent at what we do well.”
Alabama State should benefit from a more experienced Dematrius Davis at quarterback next season. Davis didn’t have a chance to get into a rhythm as a freshman due to multiple injuries, but the quarterback put the talent that made him a four-star recruit on display against UAPB, throwing for a season-high 272 yards and rushing for 44 more.
The Hornets are also set to return weapons such as leading rusher Jacory Merritt and receivers Darius Edmonds, Jeremiah Hixon, Kisean Johnson and Isaiah Scott. Their offensive line will benefit from an offseason of maturation, as none of ASU’s starters in the Turkey Day Classic were seniors.
On defense, ASU will bring back Colton Adams, who came back from a shoulder injury and blossomed into one of the SWAC’s most dominant linebackers. Adams had 128 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and nine quarterback pressures this fall and finished the season strong with 17 tackles, four of them for loss. Standout young defensive backs Adrian Maddox (49 tackles, six TFLs, two interceptions), Cail Jackson (three interceptions) and Demaurez Bellamy (48 tackles, eight PBUs) all bring hope for the future.
The Hornets’ two-game losing streak won’t affect the way Robinson approaches filling out the roster for 2023 through recruiting and the transfer portal, he said. It likely won’t fuel the team in the same way a September or October loss would, as next season’s Alabama State team will be brand-new with around 30 new players.
But when next November rolls around, the Hornets will surely get a reminder of what happened a year prior.
“You remember the big wins, but the way we finished, losing two straight games, we didn’t finish the deal,” Robinson said. “We’ll get to that point of the season again next year, end of the year, and we’re going to have to focus on, ‘Hey, remember the mistakes we made last year? Let’s not that do that same thing. Let’s finish.'”
Jacob Shames can be reached by email at email@example.com, by phone at 334-201-9117 and on Twitter @Jacob_Shames.