Braves improve despite defeat

Published 11:24 am Monday, September 17, 2012

LORMAN — While Alcorn State’s 24-6 loss Saturday afternoon to Arkansas-Pine Bluff could be considered a step back, first-year Braves head coach Jay Hopson said his team continued to make strides against a tough opening stretch of games.

“I felt our first five games was a murderer’s row for us,” Hopson said. “Our first two (Southwestern Athletic) conference games were against the No. 1 (Grambling State) and No. 2 (UAPB) teams from the (SWAC) West. We also played a national championship contender in James Madison and, next week, we go to Arkansas State. After that, we have Alabama State, which won the (SWAC) East. We just need to go out and learn from each of these experiences. We’re still growing. I thought we fought hard.”

Alcorn State (1-2, 1-1 SWAC) had a 20 minute window, from the second to the third quarter, where it might have taken control of the game. After defensive tackle Ricky Leslie blocked a field goal attempt with 9:57 left in the second quarter, the Braves responded with an 11-play, 76-yard march that resulted in a 2-yard TD run by Anthony Williams III. The touchdown made it 7-6, but the Braves could not get the tie as the snap was bobbled on the PAT kick.

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The missed extra point would be the first of five critical mistakes the Braves made. The second came with 54 seconds left when Alcorn kicker Ernesto Santillian had his 45-yard field goal tipped at the line and the Braves went to halftime down 7-6.

Alcorn State opened the second half with a strong drive of 69 yards to reach the UAPB 9. There, the Braves faced third down and 1 yard to go. Quarterback Darius Smith optioned the ball to Arnold Walker, but the pitch was a tad late and Walker was dropped for a 4-yard loss.

“They were starting to blitz us and we wanted to take advantage with an option read,” Hopson said. “Things happen so fast and they got us. Had it been a fourth and one, we would have gone for it on the next play. But it was fourth and four and I felt we needed to get the lead. Then we missed the kick. We’ve got to convert those.”

Santillian was wide right on a 30-yard field goal and the Braves were left with nothing to show for a good drive.

The Braves’ defense played well on the next two series, but the offense could not take advantage of good field position. UAPB (2-1, 1-1) made its move on the third offensive series, bringing in a fresh running back, Aaron Lagrone.

Lagrone responded with four runs for 34 yards to reach the UAPB 46. On second down, a simple dive to third-team back John Toney went nowhere. Toney thought otherwise. He kept churning and spun out of the tackle. There was no safety help and Toney rumbled down the sideline for a back-breaking 54-yard TD run with 3:15 left in the third quarter.

Alcorn State linebacker Terrance Green was dumbfounded by the Braves’ fifth and most costly miscue.

“I was so upset by that play,” Green said. “I was there in on the tackle. We thought there should have been a whistle but there wasn’t one. The guy kept moving.”

Green hopes that the play will be a lesson learned about finishing until the whistle sounds.

“We came in wanting to win,” Green said. “When we can’t execute, we get what we deserve.”

Following their opening drive of the second half, the Braves’ offense did not produce a first down over the next four series. UAPB scored 10 fourth-quarter points to put the game away.

Braves wide receiver Terrance Lewis said the Braves’ offense must bounce back.

“They (UAPB) made less mistakes than we did,” said Lewis, who led ASU with six catches for 55 yards. “This type of feeling is bad. We have to learn from our mistakes.”

Hopson remained positive.

“We just have to get a little sharper every week,” Hopson said.