BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) UAB needed a half to shake off more than 1,000 days of rust before pulling away from Alabama A&M 38-7 on Saturday in the Blazers’ first game following a two-season hiatus.
A.J. Erdely threw two touchdown passes and ran in another as the Blazers scored 28 unanswered points in the second half against the FCS Bulldogs, also playing their first game of the season.
School officials shut down the UAB program at the end of the 2014 season for financial reasons, but it was reinstated six months later after a fundraising effort generated what eventually became more than $40 million in contributions. The Blazers then sat out the 2015 and 2016 seasons while rebuilding their roster.
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The Blazers were greeted Saturday by an announced crowd of 45,212, the largest in program history. UAB often played in front of home crowds of less than 10,000 before the temporary shutdown. And there was a true game-day atmosphere outside Legion Field in the hours before kickoff, something the program lacked while going through nine consecutive losing seasons.
”The whole day was very special,” UAB coach Bill Clark said. ”There were so many people who worked so hard to make this happen for us and our program. The crowd and the excitement and the energy, and all the work that went into making this happen, was special.
”Then for our guys to respond the right way, it’s what we needed. It has been tough for these guys to practice and practice without playing a game.”
Linebacker Tevin Crews, who led UAB with six tackles, is one of 15 players on this year’s team who are holdovers from 2014. He admits being caught up in the emotion of the moment when he ran onto the field before the game and saw the size of the crowd.
”It went from there being nothing for six months, to now here we are with 45,000 people in the stands. It means a lot,” Crews said. ”I just want to thank this community for stepping up and standing behind us and believing in this university. Now we just want to keep it going and deliver for them.”
The Blazers broke the game open midway through the third quarter on a 26-yard touchdown pass from Erdely to Sederian Copeland, followed less than a minute later by a 27-yard interception return for a touchdown by Anthony Rush.
The only score for Alabama A&M came on a 46-yard pass from Aqeel Glass to Rod Randolph.
UAB: At times, the Blazers looked a lot like a team that had not played in more than 1,000 days. After scoring on their first possession, the Blazers next five possessions ended with a fumble followed by four consecutive punts.
”This was the first D-I football game for a lot of people on this team, so the nerves were definitely running high,” said Erdely, who completed 11 of 20 passes for 152 yards with no interceptions. ”We kept telling the defense to just keep stopping them, and eventually we’ll click.”
ALABAMA A&M: Even though A&M was stepping up in classification, it was still a frustrating day. The 38 points allowed by the Bulldogs was basically the same as last season’s 38.7 per-game average. And 115 of their 183 offensive yards came on two drives.
”Things were pretty even there in the first half,” A&M coach James Spady said. ”Some things happened to us in the second half that led to a little breakdown here and there, however it wasn’t a complete breakdown. Our guys still fought and were competitive.”
UAB: Visits Ball State in the program’s first game against a Mid-American Conference opponent. The Blazers won their final two road games of the 2014 season.
ALABAMA A&M: Plays at Vanderbilt, the second of three consecutive road games to start the season.