On one side of the bright yellow headgear were printed the words: Came To Work. The Hornets did as they fended off a last-ditch effort from rival Alabama A&M to defeat the Bulldogs 21-16 in the 76th McDonald’s Magic City Classic presented by Coca-Cola.
The victory, before an announced crowd of 61,221, continued a reversal of fortune for the Montgomery university that opened the season with five losses. Now the Hornets and their interim head coach are riding a two-game winning streak.
“It’s great to win,” Hill-Eley said. “Our fans have been down all year while we’ve been trying to get things straight. Winning this game puts some life back in our program and back into our community. It’s a great feeling to be able to carry a win back to Montgomery.”
Alabama A&M coach James Spady was on the other end of the emotional spectrum. He approached assembled media and quickly turned around, clearly not yet ready to speak.
Later, as he sat in the postgame press conference, he said he was disappointed but not discouraged by the outcome.
“This is the most confident I’ve ever been at any point during my tenure as a head football coach,” he said. “I was the most confident in the way we would play this game.”
Rain and wind Friday night provided a challenge for some tailgaters. The weather forced some camped around Legion Field to take down their tents until calmer conditions let them put them back up Saturday.
Like Friday night, Saturday began with a rainy Magic City Classic Parade downtown. Umbrellas and raincoats were in vogue as spectators lined the streets for the passing bands, cars and marchers.
There were some convertibles in the parade but tops weren’t down on those cars. Spectators were shivering and damp, but otherwise seemed to enjoy the procession.
Celebrity ambassador Rickey Smiley waved from the McDonald’s float. Birmingham Mayor-elect Randall Woodfin wore a hooded jacket and occasionally put on some gray gloves as he walked in the middle of the street, waving to those in attendance.
Woodfin said he expects walking in the Magic City Classic Parade will become his annual ritual. It will help him maintain contact with the people, he said. At halftime, Woodfin appeared at midfield with Birmingham Mayor William Bell and former mayors Richard Arrington Jr. and Bernard Kincaid.
Neither band disappointed at halftime; neither could be declared a loser. Rapper T.I. thrilled a few thousand fans in the north stands with his postgame show. The fun still wasn’t over as countless fans returned to their tailgating.
Offenses start slowly
Defenses dominated the first half of the game as neither offense could get on the scoreboard. ASU senior cornerback Ronnie Scott picked off Damion May’s pass, cut right and eventually dove, stretching the ball over the goal line to complete a 59-yard touchdown return on A&M’s opening possession.
The Alabama A&M defense got into the act in the second quarter. After seeing its drive stall at the State 3-yard-line, Vernon Moland, a redshirt junior from Birmingham, tackled the Hornets’ ball-carrier in the end zone for a safety for an improbable 7-2 halftime score.
Octayvious Miles gave the Bulldogs a 9-7 lead with a 3-yard reverse early in the third quarter. ASU’s Alex Anderson countered with a 12-yard run for a 14-9 Hornets advantage.
A&M lost a fumble at its own 9 with about 4 minutes left in the game. Three plays later, Darryl Pearson found Chett LeVay on an 8-yard pass and the men from Montgomery were up 21-9.
A&M’s Jordan Bentley narrowed the margin with a 2-yard run with 1:48 left to play.
The Bulldogs recovered two onside kicks in the final two minutes. The first was negated by a penalty but the second gave the team from Huntsville a shot at a fantastic finish. May’s final pass to Miles bounced incomplete to squelch any chance of a Bulldog win.
Hill-Eley admitted he wasn’t fond of having a cooler of water dumped on him as he headed to midfield after the game.
“It was about 42 degrees,” he said. “We could have done something a little different than pouring water on me. When I looked back, I realized it was a freshman. I started to return the favor on him on the way in, but I decided I would spare him this time.”