There are defining moments in every season for a football team.
Sometimes, a crucial loss can send a team spiraling out of control. Sometimes, a team that isn’t very good can keep on winning, using a big confidence-boosting win to defy the odds week after week.
Sometimes, it’s simply a matter of surviving and advancing.
The last case was the one Alabama State faced on Saturday afternoon at Pine Bluff, Ark. This was an Alabama State team picked to win the conference, picked to win its division, desperately seeking its first win. And after squandering a 21-0 lead, the Hornets looked like the team that had lost its first two games in similar fashion. Receivers who had been dropping passes were now catching them, then fumbling. Return specialists fumbled kickoffs. The defense, for the third consecutive week, seemed lost for long stretches of play, blitzing on plays where they had no hope of getting to the quarterback, surrendering big play after big play after agonizing big play.
But on this particular Saturday, the Hornets grew up. Not this time, the players said. In the decisive fourth quarter, the offense moved the ball, the defense came up with stops and the Hornets walked away with a 40-39 victory.
The problems were still there. If the UAPB placekicker hadn’t missed an extra point, we might still be playing yet another overtime. If the same player didn’t bobble a fourth-down snap in punt formation, the Hornets may not have driven the length of the field.
But instead of playing the ‘if’ game, just focus on the fact that a team that squandered a 21-0 lead, that had given away all hope of winning and all momentum, found a little of both on the road against a team just as desperate for a win.
Whether Alabama State can catch Jackson State in the SWAC East Division race remains to be seen. But its odds are a lot better after winning Saturday on the road against the defending conference champions. ASU completed a tough three-game stretch where its best hope might have been a 2-1 record; at worst, it could have been 0-3. Instead, it’s in between at 1-2 and should be favored in every game the remainder of the way except for a Nov. 2 game at Kentucky.
The Hornets’ lone remaining road conference games are at two struggling SWAC programs, Texas Southern and Mississippi Valley State. It’s made it through the toughest part of the schedule. We’ll see if the fourth-quarter rally from a nine-point deficit was the start of something special or just a fluke.
It certainly looked special on Saturday.