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Carrie-Gilmore combo helps Alcorn close in on title in SWAC East

[11/11/01]When Alcorn State head coach Johnny Thomas walked into the postgame press conference Saturday, he broke into a huge grin.

It’s easy to smile now that things are going well.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Donald Carrie threw for 350 yards and two touchdowns and ran for two more scores, and wide receiver Ronald Gilmore caught 10 passes for 235 yards and a touchdown as Alcorn inched closer to an incredible turnaround with a 40-35 win over Alabama A&M at Jack Spinks Stadium.

Alcorn (5-4, 4-1 Southwestern Athletic Conference), which went 0-11 last season, can clinch the SWAC Eastern Division title and a trip to the conference title game Dec. 1 in Birmingham by beating archrival Jackson State next week.

“We’re in the driver’s seat and the only thing we have to do is not let go of the steering wheel,” Thomas said. “If we keep winning, we’ll be going to Birmingham.”

Saturday’s win wasn’t easy, however, against a stubborn Alabama A&M (2-7, 1-4) squad that the Braves didn’t so much beat as outlast.

Alcorn trailed 21-14 at halftime until ripping off 19 straight points in the fourth quarter to take a 33-21 lead. Robert Lester broke a 63-yard TD run and Gilmore set up two more scores with long receptions.

The Braves couldn’t keep the momentum going, however. After holding A&M to three-and-out late in the third quarter, Carrie threw an interception at the Alcorn 26 that led to a nine-play scoring drive. A&M had first-and-goal at the Alcorn 1, but didn’t score until quarterback Chris Gunn leaped over the pile on fourth down.

“If that had not happened, I don’t think they would have scored in the second half,” Thomas said of the interception.

The Braves pushed the lead back to 12, 40-28, with an 80-yard, six-minute drive capped by Albert Jones’ 2-yard TD run, but A&M marched right back down the field and cut it to 40-35 on Eddie Rowe’s 5-yard TD run with 3:17 to play.

A&M then recovered an onside kick and had the ball at the Alcorn 40 after an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against the Braves, but threw four straight incompletions.

“I started to run it,” said A&M coach Ron Cooper, who said his struggling, inexperienced offense only had two deep pass routes installed. “The firs thing I thought of as soon as it was over, I told the guys upstairs that I messed up.”

Alcorn was unable to move the ball on its ensuing possession, but the Braves’ defense collected three sacks in four plays on A&M’s last-chance drive to seal the win.

“It was a lot of pressure, but as a team we stuck together,” said Alcorn linebacker Louis Green, who had nine tackles, half a sack and a fumble recovery. “We called a huddle with the defense and said Championships start with defense.’ We’re getting to the championship with defense, we put it on our shoulders and we got it done.”