Tennessee State tops Mississippi Valley 26-20 in John Merritt Classic

From tsutigers.com :

Game 1: Tennessee State 26, Mississippi Valley State 20
Event: The 21st Annual John Merrit Classic
Records: TSU (1-0), MVSU (0-1)
Venue: Nissan Stadium
Location: Nashville, Tenn.
Weather: Mostly Sunny, 91
Kickoff Time: 6:09 p.m.
Attendance: 13,458

NASHVILLE — Propelled by 447 yards of total offense, the Tennessee State football team secured a 26-20 win over Mississippi Valley State in the 21st annual John Merritt Classic Saturday evening at Nissan Stadium. 

Chris Rowland, who was voted offensive MVP, finished with a near career-high 173 yards on 11 receptions. The local wide-receiver added 61 yards on seven punt returns and one rush for 235 total all-purpose yards. 

Cameron Rosendahl wrapped the night with an impressive 330 yards adding an 8-yard rushing touchdown, the first of his career. 

Sophomore Jahsun Bryant, out of Cane Ridge High School was voted defensive MVP after registering three solo, nine total tackles. Terry Straughter added seven tackles, 1.5 for loss. 

All-American kicker Antonio Zita added the exclamation mark with four hit field goals and two extra points for a total of 14 points on the night. His third field goal marked a career-long of 44-yards. 

TSU is back in action on Sept. 7 in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, versus MTSU. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m.




  • The two teams traded possessions throughout the first stanza.
  • Mississippi Valley earned a first down on their first drive, while the Tigers moved the chains once on their second possession.
  • The Tigers threatened on their third opportunity as they started the drive with three consecutive plays by Shawn McColley.
  • McColley used runs of three and five yards to sandwich a four yard reception for a Tiger first down.
  • Cameron Rosendahl would hit Chris Rowland on back-to-back passes for 11 and 10 yards, respectively.
  • The second reception moved TSU down to the Valley 32.
  • Penalties would hinder the drive, forcing the Big Blue to punt.
  • After a defensive stop, Rowland would ignite the Tigers with a 34 yard punt return down to the Delta Devils 25.
  • After a Rosendahl to Steven Newbold completion of 14 yards, the senior quarterback called his own number for an eight yard scamper down the left sideline for a touchdown.
  • The score came on the final play of the first quarter.
  • TSU outgained MVSU 80-26 in the stanza and held Valley to one first down.


  • The Tiger defense continued to stymie the MVSU offense, allowing just 17 yards of total offense in the quarter and no first downs.
  • On TSUs first drive, Rosendahl carried for eight yards on a third and short, to move across midfield.
  • Te’kendrick moved the Tigers to the Valley 26 with a 16 yard dash.
  • A penalty erased a scoring pass from Rosendahl to Rowland, forcing an Antonio Zita 36 yard field goal attempt.
  • Zita would miss, marking just the third failed attempt over his two year career.
  • The Delta Devils would get on the board with 2:17 remaining in the half as Keonte’ Daniels forced a fumble, picked up the ball and returned it 32 yards for a touchdown.
  • On the extra point, Khalil Jones broke through the line and blocked the attempt to keep the Tigers on top, 7-6.
  • Tennessee State responded with an 11 play, 55 yard drive over the final 2:17 of the quarter.
  • The Big Blue extended its lead to 10-6, with a Zita 31yard field goal.
  • The series began Rosendahl connecting on a 10 yard pass to Newbold and a 17 yarder to Rowland.
  • Another TSU penalty eliminated a long scoring play to Roberson.
  • The Tigers would get down to the 14 yard line before settling for the Zita field goal as time expired on the half.
  • The Big Blue has out gained MVSU 180-43 through the first two quarters.


  • The second half began with a penalty against Tennessee State due to an extended halftime.
  • Kaleb Mosley kicked off from his own 20, setting up a 50 yard return for Jarius Clayton.
  • On the play, Mosley was called for a horse-collar foul allowing the Delta Devils to begin the drive at the TSU 25.
  • Five plays later, Valley scored on a two yard pass play to take a 13-10 lead.
  • The Tigers answered quickly, needing just three plays to find the end zone.
  • Rowland caught a Rosendahl pass on the right flank and out maneuvered the defenders for a 53 yard touchdown.
  • Valley continued its second half success with a pair of quick first downs to move into Tiger territory.
  • The defense would stop the Delta Devils five yards shy of the yard to gain.
  • The Tigers would start the next drive at their own 10 yard line as they embarked on a nine play, 79 yard series.
  • Malik Abdul-Haqq’s 12 yard reception would get the drive started and was followed by a Roberson 18 yard carry.
  • The big play came as Rowland caught a 43 yard pass from Rosendahl, moving down to the Valley 19.
  • The Tigers would have to settle for a Zita 28 yard field goal, to extend the lead to 20-13.
  • TSU outgained MVSU 158-71 in the third quarter.


  • The Tigers added three more points to the scoreboard as Zita booted a career long 44 yard field goal with 10:47 remaining in the regulation.
  • Rosendahl teamed up with Newbold for a 15 yard pass play to open the series.
  • The Tigers went to the ground game gaining 19 yards to move into range for Zita.
  • Valley bounced back with its longest drive of the game, going 75 yards on 11 plays.
  • The drive ended on a four yard touchdown plunge by Dejerric Bryant.
  • The touchdown cut the Tigers lead to 23-20 with 7:13 to play.
  • On the next drive, Rosendahl moved the Tigers into MVSU territory with a 12 yard pass to Phillip Brown and a 25 yarder to Rowland.
  • The drive was highlighted by an acrobatic catch by Abdul-Haqq down the sideline for 28 yards.
  • The play was initially called out of bounds, but was overturned by replay as the 6-7 receiver was able to get one foot down before landing out of bounds.
  • Zita connected on his fourth field goal of the day, this one from 26 yards with 3:10 on the clock to take a 26-20 lead.
  • The Delta Devils threatened, driving down to the Tigers 21 before Bryant’s pass fell incomplete with 1:07 to play.


  • Weather at kickoff was 91 degrees and mostly sunny
  • Official start time was 6:09 p.m.
  • Captains for TSU were Chris Rowland, Cameron Rosendahl, Lachavious Simmons and Mekhi Brown.
  • L.C. Cole, the head coach of the 1999 TSU Championship team served as the honorary captain.
  • MVSU won the coin toss and deferred.
  • Cameron Rodendahl’s 8-yard rush for a touchdown in the first quarter served as his first career rushing touchdown. Rosendahl finished the game 25-42, 330 yards and 1 touchdown.
  • Kicker Kaleb Mosely increased his career-long by 14 yards with a 64-yard kickoff in the second quarter.
  • Antonio Zita kicked for 14 points including a career-long 44-yard field goal.
  • Chris Rowland rushed for a game-high 172 yards for one touchdown.
  • Chris Rowland was named the John Merritt Classic Offensive MVP.
  • Jahsun Bryant was named John Merritt Classic Defensive MVP.
  • This is the eighth meeting between Tennessee State and Mississippi Valley State.
  • TSU is 5-3 all-time versus MVSU.
  • This marks the first meeting the first meeting for Reed as head coach versus the Delta Devils.
  • Rod Reed is 9-1 versus HBCU’s.
  • Big Blue is 15-6 in John Merritt Classic matchups.
  • Game was broadcasted on ESPN+

The Tigers will travel to Murfreesboro, Tenn. to take on Middle Tennessee on Saturday, Sept. 7.


Center Thomas Burton

-On the win
“It’s always good to get a victory. At the end of the day, we came out and saw that there’s a lot more work to be done, but a victory is a victory. We’re going to take that and run with it.”

-On offensive play and what needs to happen to improve
“We for sure came out slow. Going into next week, we just need to have a strong week of practice and make sure everyone is in-tune and locked in to what they’re doing. If everyone does their job, we’ll be fine, but all 11 of us have to do our jobs.”

-On starting the season winning
“It’s always good to have a win. I think we can measure ourselves off this victory – see what we did well and see some of the things we need to do well. We’re 1-0. Let’s make it 2-0.”

Linebacker Terry Straughter

-On performance of the team
“We as a defense in as one and flew around, but there a few more things we have to pick up. We need to be more physical and dial in when making calls and stuff because the little things matter at the end of the game.”

-On satisfaction with defense
“Not really because at the end of the day, their offense was slow and as a defense we have to get turnovers off of that. We have to work on that and stripping the ball and being more physical.”

-On biggest thing defense needs for the next game
“Communicate more and be live.”

Defensive End Emmanuel Olenga

-On the win
“It was a pretty good win for our team. That’s the way we want to start the season; we want to start ahead and get a win – it gives us confidence. We have some room to improve. We started a bit lackadaisical. We didn’t come in as strong as we should have. We’re a way better team than our opponent, and looking to the future and facing better opponents, we should attack a little harder. However, looking at today, we got a win. That’s better than a loss.”

-On working in a new system on a new team
“On the defensive side of the ball, we’re doing a great job. We work together as a team. It doesn’t matter who has the success. We all want to win. That’s what it comes down to, and I feel like we executed for the most part until the third quarter, but we picked it back up in the fourth. We just want to play for each other on the defensive side of the ball. I communicate great with these guys and I see them as my brothers. We haven’t even scratched the surface of who we can be. We have to go back, watch film, focus on the little things, keep playing together and mid-way through the season we’ll be the best D-Line in the country.”

Defensive End Rhashaun Epting

-On how the team played
“I think there’s a lot of room for improvement, but as a defense I think we’re locked in. Obviously, the competition for next week will be way higher than this week, we just have to focus on the call, and 1-11 has to do their job. Next week, I think the quarterback change was something the guys had to get used to. Receivers and running backs weren’t used to getting hit – we don’t hit them in practice so they had to get used to that. We’re going to get better, going to keep grinding. We’re not satisfied with beating MVSU by six.”

-On the switch from FBS and what he brings to the team
“Honestly, FCS, FBS, all the same. Football is football. If you want it, you’ll go get it. It doesn’t matter. The number of scholarships is the only difference.”

Quarterback Cameron Rosendahl

-On the performance in week one
“First off we got the win, so I’m happy about that. We have a lot to work on. Penalties killed us in the red zone. Being disciplined, listening to our coaches and decrease our mistakes we’ll be fine.”

-On making those changes
“I think it’s just focus. Focus throughout the week and focus during practice. If we stay focused and do things right, we’ll be fine.”

-On prepping to run the show
“It felt great. It’s fun getting out there from the beginning. I got a little used to it today and we’ll be ready for next week.”

Running Back Te’Kendrick Roberson

-On tonight’s performance
“Tonight we did a lot of great things, a lot of bad things. We have to clean up the penalties. We had two touchdowns called back.”

-On cleaning up the offense from this week
“We had to talk to the O-Line. We cleaned up a few things and everything started hitting.”

-On wining
“It feels good. We just have to go back out and get another.”

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