Alcorn takes on FCS power James Madison

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 8, 2012

Fresh off its dramatic season-opening win over Grambling, Alcorn State heads to Harrisonburg, Va., to play one of the best teams in the Football Championship Sub-Division.

The James Madison Dukes (1-0) return 16 starters, including three FCS All-Americans, from a team that went 11-2 and reached the second round of the playoffs last year. One of those 11 wins came against Atlantic Coast Conference power Virginia Tech.

A 16-hour bus ride aside, first-year Alcorn coach and Vicksburg native Jay Hopson knows this is one of the most daunting challenges the Braves have faced in some time.

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“I was telling someone this week, it’s been nearly 20 years since Alcorn State has played an FCS national championship contender,” Hopson said. “And this James Madison team is definitely a national championship contender. They beat Virginia Tech last year. I had to go back to 1994 when Steve McNair was here and they played Youngstown State in a I-AA playoff game for the last time they played someone who’s been in the final eight just about every year.”

The Dukes won the I-AA national championship in 2004 and have been a playoff regular ever since. They opened the season with a 55-6 romp over St. Francis. JMU will use tonight’s tilt with Alcorn (1-0) as a tune up for next week’s clash with Big 12 contender and ninth-ranked West Virginia.

James Madison is led by its three All-Americans, running back Dae’Quan Scott, guard Earl Watford and linebacker Stephon Robertson. Scott is a triple threat for the Dukes as a runner, receiver and punt returner. He had 195 total yards and three touchdowns against St. Francis.

Quarterback Justin Thorpe is a dual threat who passed for 177 yards and one score, and rushing for another 80 yards last week. In all, the Dukes piled up 382 rushing yards with six different backs gaining at least 40 apiece.

The Dukes’ rushing attack is a big concern for Hopson because the Braves gave up 381 yards on the ground to Grambling.

“For us it’s all about our linemen executing their assignments,” Hopson said. “We had a lot of positives, but we need to do better with executing our calls.”

The good news for the Braves’ defense is they produced 11 tackles for loss. Senior defensive end Jermaine Turner had two sacks and linebacker Cornelius Brown had three tackles for loss.

Another bright spot for Alcorn and for Hopson was the reason they were able to come back and win — their own running game.

After being held to just 109 total yards in the first half, Alcorn finished with 224 rushing yards. Arnold Walker, who came off the bench as the team’s No. 2 back, had a team high 57 yards and scored the winning touchdown with 1:23 left. Madison Central product Joe Price had 55 yards, which included a 39-yard scamper on a double reverse that set up the first score in the fourth quarter.

Quarterback Darius Smith directed both fourth quarter drives and finished 12-of-22 passing for 102 yards.

“The best thing we did was we ran the ball extremely well in the fourth quarter,” Hopson said.