By T. Scott Boatright
MOBILE, Ala. — On paper, Saturday’s Port City Classic showdown pitting Gambling State against Alabama State at Ladd-Peebles Stadium looked like it should have been a barnburner.
But the play on the gridiron and the final result on the scoreboard painted a clearer picture than the stat sheet as Alabama State controlled from start to finish in a 17-6 win over the Tigers.
Alabama State outgained Grambling by only two yards — 261-259. And the G-Men had only one more first down than the Hornets — 16-15.
It was the combination of three other statistical categories that proved to be the winning difference for Alabama State in this contest — penalties, turnovers and time of possession.
Grambling was flagged 10 times for 84 yards while Alabama State was only penalized three times for 30 yards.GSU quarterback Myles Crawley was picked off twice and ASU quarterback Damon Stewart only once.
And despite the closeness in total yardage, the Hornets held a commanding advantage in time of possession — 35:21 – 24:39.
Offensively, the Tigers simply never seemed to get in sync throughout the game with the exception of one strong third-quarter drive that produced GSU’s only score of the night.
Alabama State took control from the opening kickoff, going no huddle and marching 85 yards on 11 plays with Stewart tossing a 19-yard touchdown pass to Kisean Johnson that put the Hornets on top 7-0 at the 8:58 mark of the opening stanza.
Grambling also went no huddle on its first drive and recorded one first down before Crawley was intercepted, giving the ball back to Alabama State at its own 49-yard line.
The Hornets missed on a 32-yard field goal attempt to open the second quarter, giving the ball to GSU at its own 20. But Crawley was hit in the backfield on first down and lost the ball with Alabama State taking possession at the Grambling 16-yard line.
And again Stewart and Johnson connected for a score — this one from three yards out — that pushed ASU’s advantage to 14-0 with 11:27 remaining in the first half.
Grambling had a scoring opportunity late in the second quarter, marching as deep as the Alabama State 16-yard line with 1:59 on the clock.
A quarterback sack and an illegal procedure penalty quickly pushed the Tigers back to the ASU 39, but GSU and Crawley regained that yardage on a pair of consecutive completions to set up a missed 38-yard field goal attempt on fourth-and-15 that left the Hornets on top 14-0 at halftime.
Grambling’s third quarter featured a combined five punts before Alabama State stretched its lead to 17-0 with 14:45 left on the clock.
Then the GSU offense suddenly slipped into gear for the first time in the contest as the Tigers took over on their own 40-yard line.
Crawley connected with Javion Robinson on a 17-yard completion to open the drive before Chance Williams ran for eight yards and before Crawley hit Antonio Jones on a three-yard pass for a first down.on the ASU 35-yard line.
Williams followed with 16 yards on a pair of runs before Crawley connected with Nae’Saan Dickerson on an 18-yard scoring strike that left GSU with six points on the scoreboard after Luca Duarte’s point-after kick attempt failed.
A Kevin Thomas interception and 22-yard return gave the Tigers one last chance as they took over at the ASU 48-yard line with 2:34 remaining,
Crawley then threw two incompletions before connecting with Jones on a 12-yard pass down the 36 that appeared to give the G-Men a first down. But a personal foul call against the Tigers pushed Grambling back to its own 49 before ASU’s Amon Scarborough picked off a Crawley pass and returned it 40 yards to the GSU 30-yard line that allowed the Hornets to chew the final 1:48 off the clock.
Grambling’s run game never really got into gear despite Chance Williams averaging 4.8 yards per run and Floyd Chalk averaging 10.5 yards per attempt.
Williams led GSU with 57 yards on 12 carries while Chalk added 21 yards on only two attempts.
Crawley connected on 21-of-31 passes for 197 yards with one touchdown and the two interceptions while Jones led GSU receivers with five catches for 44 yards.
Defensively, Grambling was led by its two stalwarts with Lewis Matthews leading the way with nine tackles (two solos) while Sundiata Anderson added seven takedowns, including one solo.
Grambling, now 4-5 overall and 3-3 in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, will next play at the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff (1-8, 0-6 SWAC) at 8 p.m. Friday in a game that will air on ESPNU.
The Tigers’ loss to Alabama State left Grambling two games behind Alcorn State (5-1) and one game behind Southern and Prairie View (both 4-2) in the title chase for the SWAC West.