By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus
All season long, the Braves of Alcorn State have proved to be true road warriors as they’ve spoiled Homecoming for three teams including their SWAC Championship game opponent on Saturday — the Southern Jaguars.
Following a 56-20 win at Mississippi Valley State in late September, Fred McNair’s crew handed SU a 20-3 loss at Baton Rouge for the Jags’ Homecoming. The ASU defense held Dawson Odum’s crew to just 139 yards of total offense.
Because of that win, the Braves will host the championship game at Jack Spinks-Marino Casem Stadium, an unprecedented move for the conference. Alcorn is 19-7 against SWAC teams inside Casem-Spinks Stadium dating back to 2013.
While the Braves would lose in five overtimes to Alabama State the week after the win against SU, it didn’t stop ASU from finishing 8-3 en route to its fifth straight East Division crown.
The Jags’ loss to the Braves — which left them at 2-3 — would prove to be a turning point to their season. Sophomore quarterback Ladarius Skelton would be handed the keys to the offense and hasn’t looked back.
A 38-0 shutout against West Division favorite Prairie View A&M was the start of SU’s current six-game winning streak which landed them in Saturday’s battle.
In the win against the Panthers, Skelton was the catalyst as he rushed for 202 yards and three TDs and passed for 163 yards and another score. Since Skelton was named SU’s starter, the Jags have averaged a league-best 38 points per game.
That includes last week’s 38-28 win over Grambling State in the Bayou Classic.
They’ll be going against an ASU defensive unit that’s the SWAC’s top scoring defense giving up just 20.6 points per game. Offensively, the Braves are the league’s second-highest scoring offense at 33.2 points per game.
The Braves also lead the conference in rushing yards at 274.3 per game. The unit is paced by the SWAC’s Offensive Player of the Year, quarterback Noah Johnson. The junior has thrown for 1,944 yards and 15 touchdowns and has rushed for 813 yards and seven TD’s.
He also ranks seventh in the country in yards per carry (7.13) and 13th in completion percentage (.634). A finalist for the Walter Payton Award, Johnson ranks eighth all-time in school history in career touchdown passes (30), 11th in passing yards (3,845) and is approaching the all-time list in rushing yards (1,600).
Defensively, Southern ranks third in the SWAC in scoring defense (24 ppg), third in total defense (358 ypg), second in rush defense (136.9 ypg) and seventh in pass defense (221.1 ypg).
One of the standouts for the Jags’ has been freshman linebacker Jordan Lewis. Listed at 195 pounds, Lewis paced the conference with 11 sacks on the season and his emergence as of late has sharpened the teeth of what has arguably been the stingiest defense in the SWAC over the past month or so.
Alcorn is 5-1 against Southern over the teams’ past six meetings, with an average score of 43.1 points per game compared to 22.6 points allowed per game. Meaning, Alcorn has beaten Southern by an average of roughly three touchdowns per game.
But let’s face it, the Jags would love to come into Lorman and avenge that loss from September. Especially with a trip the Celebration Bowl hanging in the balance. Scheduled for a 4:33 pm ET kickoff, the game will be seen live on ESPNU.
Anthony McClean can be reached via email at email@example.com.