Braves are pleased by progress

Published 12:02 pm Monday, November 22, 2010

JACKSON — While Alcorn State missed out on an opportunity to beat its archrivals for a second straight year — and a winning season as well — coach Earnest Collins is pleased with the progress the program made in 2010.

Alcorn finished with a 5-6 record, 4-5 in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, which was a two-game improvement over the previous season and four games better than in 2008. The Braves were in contention for the SWAC’s Eastern Division championship until the last two weeks of the season, and most of their losses came in close games.

“We’re really close to being a good consistent program,” Collins said moments after Alcorn was beaten 27-14 by Jackson State on Saturday. “Of all our losses, all but one, that being at Mississippi State, were by 10 points or less.”

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Jackson State got the win behind standout quarterback Casey Therriault, who threw for 164 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another 51 yards and a score to build a 27-7 lead for the Tigers. Therriault left the game with four minutes remaining in the second quarter with a broken collarbone. He suffered the injury when he dove for the pylon on a 20-yard scramble.

Even with Therriault gone, the Braves couldn’t capitalize in the second half. They drove inside the JSU 20 twice in the third quarter, but turned it over on downs both times. In the fourth quarter, after Jackson State fumbled a punt, Arturo Tamayo missed a 35-yard field goal. The only score in the second half came on a 21-yard interception return by Alcorn’s Jameson Smith late in the third quarter.

“Today was a game of missed opportunities,” Collins said. “We had a chance to score on the goal line and had a fumble. That was a 14-point swing and it hurt. We had the ball twice inside the red zone in the third quarter and didn’t get anything. We really wanted to go out with a winning season.”

The Braves were hurt by an ineffective performance from freshman quarterback Brandon Bridge, who was playing on a gimpy hamstring. He completed just 5 of 24 passes for 70 yards. None of his completions came in the second half and backup Darius Smith finished the game.

“When we saw him holding his leg after a run there in the second quarter, we knew we could keep him bottled up,” Jackson State defensive end Sam Washington said. “Our plan early on was not to let him outflank us. We made it a real physical game and we won it.”

Bridge said afterward that he wanted to focus on the lessons learned from an otherwise strong freshman season. He threw for 2,086 yards and 19 touchdowns, to go along with 601 yards rushing.

“What I want to work on during the offseason is reading coverages better,” Bridge said. “I need to put more trust into my offensive line. Too many times, I just took off, trying to make a big play, instead of taking what was there.”

Collins said the Braves will have some holes to fill on defense but the offense, minus two standout receivers in Ryan Singleton and Edward Johnson, will return intact.

Johnson led the Braves receiving corps with 631 yards on 38 catches and seven TDs. His last score came on a 38-yard pass from Bridge late in the first quarter to trim the Tigers’ 21-0 lead to 21-7.

“You’re always going to have to retool,” Collins said. “We lose three starters on the defensive line and we lose three in the secondary. We lose Ryan Singleton and Ed Johnson on offense. Ed Johnson has been doing it great for three years.”