MetLife Stadium was the scene for Saturday afternoon's second annual HBCUNY Classic. Morehouse and Albany State took the field as the two teams began their Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference schedule in front of 18,000 fans in New Jersey. The idea behind this game is to expand the reach of HCBU's from just the South to the Northeast and nationally, as the game was broadcast nationally on CNBC and Peacock.
Morehouse came into the game looking to bounce back after falling to Howard, 30-0, in last year's edition of the HBCUNY Classic. The Maroon Tigers came to East Rutherford with new head coach Gerard Wilcher. Albany State also has a new head coach in Quinn Gray, Sr., as both squads begin new eras of their programs.
Albany State held Morehouse to just 212 yards of total offense and picked up seven sacks as the Golden Rams defeated the Maroon Tigers, 24-14, in the HBCUNY Classic.
Albany State got the ball first and wasted no time driving down the field. Using an up-tempo offense, the Golden Rams went 70 yards in 13 plays over almost seven minutes as Ralph Lovett caught a two-yard pass from Isiah Knowles to put Albany State on the board. Iman Davis coveted the two-point conversion as Morehouse found themselves down 8-0 with 8:10 left in the first quarter.
After a three-and-out for Morehouse, Albany State struck again as Knowles found Rashad Jordan on a short pass, and the wideout did the rest, going 58 yards to pay dirt to extend the Golden Rams' lead to 14-0 just nine minutes into the game. Morehouse had trouble moving the ball on their initial possessions as Derrach West went 1-of-6 for 10 yards early. In four possessions, the Maroon Tigers punted on all four drives as Albany State easily moved down the field.
Albany State was unable to add to their lead until 5:43 remained in the first half as Eli Masburn put a 28-yard field goal through the uprights to make the score 17-0. Morehouse finally found the endzone as Derrach West found Brogan Korta on a 31-yard touchdown pass to make the score 17-7. This was Morehouse's first touchdown in five and half quarters of the HBCUNY Classic dating back to last season's game.
After an uneventful closing drive of the half for Albany State, Morehouse got the ball back on their 17-yard line. Two incomplete passes from West had many believing that the drive would end in a punt, but West connected with Ajani Williams for a 31-yard strike to keep the drive alive. However, the Maroon Tigers could not capitalize on that play as Morehouse turned the ball over on downs to end the first half.
"We shot ourselves in the foot," said Morehouse head coach Gerard Wilcher. "We kept helping them, we gave penalties to help the opposing team. Albany State is very well-coached team and took advantage of the situation, but we had crucial penalties on defense and a crucial penalty on offense. When you play good teams, you can't them."
After an electric halftime show featuring performances from both bands and hip-hop legend Big Daddy Kane, Morehouse received the kickoff. On the kickoff, a scary play occurred as returner Jaylon West and Albany State's Ahman Ross met in a head-on collision. West was stretched off the field after being down for a few minutes, and Ross was penalized and ejected for targeting.
After Morehouse's drive stalled, Albany State started their drive from their one-yard line and drove down the field. However, Morehouse's Isaiah Wimbush intercepted Knowles as the Maroon Tigers started a drive on their five-yard line. But as it was standard throughout the game, Morehouse could not generate a sustained drive and was forced to punt back to the Golden Rams. Albany State gave the ball right back as Knowles threw his second interception of the quarter. This time, Tyler Davis made the play for the Maroon Tigers as both teams ended the third quarter without scoring.
Morehouse made it a game after Marqueiz Pride hauled in a seven-yard touchdown catch with 9:53 left in regulation to cut the Albany State lead to 17-14. On the ensuing possession, Albany State drove down the field as Knowles put his tough third quarter behind him. The eight-play, 72-yard drive ended with Knowles finding Jordan for the second time in the game for a 13-yard touchdown pass to stretch the Golden Rams' lead to 24-14 with 4:52 left in the fourth quarter.
"For Isiah, this is a learning process," said Albany State coach Quinn Gray, Sr., about his quarterback bouncing back from a tough quarter. "There's gonna be some mistakes and you have to understand that you are going to have mistakes and growing pains in this process. For us, we are going to help him through those growing pains."
Down 10 with under five minutes remaining, Morehouse's final drive resulted in no points as Albany State picked up the victory and Coach Gray grabbed his first win as head coach of the Golden Rams.
For many of the student-athletes who played on Saturday, this was their first time in the New York Metro area, and for many, this was the first they were on a plane from Georgia. The week at the HBCUNY Classic represented a new experience and the chance to play on an NFL field for the men of Morehouse and Albany State.
"It's been good," said coach Gray about the week. "It ain't really about me. My kids had a great time. They had a chance to see things they have never seen before. They had a chance to play on a field that they may never have to chance to play on again. The experience this created for these kids are second to none. Hopefully we will be invited back soon."
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