‘Soul Bowl’ Saturday in Lorman

Published 11:25 am Friday, November 16, 2012

The Soul Bowl is back on the Reservation.

Saturday’s Magnolia Heritage Classic, or “Soul Bowl,” as it’s more traditionally known, has Alcorn State playing host to archrival Jackson State at Jack Spinks/Mario Casem Stadium for the first time in 18 years. Extra seating was brought in two weeks ago to raise the stadium’s capacity to 25,000, and an overflow crowd is expected for the 2 p.m. kickoff.

Reporters at this week’s Southwestern Athletic Conference teleconference peppered first-year Alcorn coach Jay Hopson with questions about his knowledge of the magnitude of the rivalry.

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“Oh, I’m pretty familiar with it, I grew up in Vicksburg,” Hopson said. “Vicksburg’s 35 miles to Lorman and 35 miles to Jackson State. I know it’s an emotionally charged game.”

Hopson added that having the game brought back to Alcorn will bring a tremendous boost to his program.

“It’s another chance to showcase Alcorn State,” Hopson said. “It’s an energy charged atmosphere, which is exactly what we wanted when we made the decision to move the game from Jackson back to our Lorman campus. Having the game back here is good for our students, alumni and fans. We want our prospective recruits to see this atmosphere.”

For Jackson State coach Rick Comegy, the big game is more than a recruiting tool. With a win Saturday, the Tigers (6-4, 6-2) can earn a spot in the SWAC championship game. The Tigers’ four-game winning streak helped give them all the relevant tiebreakers with Alabama A&M (7-3, 6-3) and Alabama State (7-3, 7-2).

“So much is at stake for us,” Comegy said. “We can win the East and go to the SWAC title game. That is our focus. We pretty much have blinders on regarding all the other stuff. We want to play the best football game we can.”

If the Tigers do that, it’ll be tough for the Braves to counter. Jackson State has ridden the league’s best offense during its winning streak. The Tigers are first in total offense at 413.3 yards per game and second in scoring at 28.4 points per game.

Quarterback Clayton Moore, a former Louisville High School star who transferred from Akron, has taken control of the Tigers’ offense. He’s thrown for 1,619 yards and nine touchdowns, and has run for another 539 yards and 10 scores.

“He just took over the job for them after the fourth game and you can just see the offense go to another level,” Hopson said. “They have a very talented team on both sides of the ball. The reality for us is to execute on offense and defense. We need to keep our focus between the lines.”

The Braves (4-6, 4-4) come into their season finale off their best overall game of the season, a 34-24 win over Texas Southern last week in Lorman. The Braves had a season high 432 yards of total offense. Quarterback John Gibbs threw for 232 yards and two touchdowns.

“We made a step forward with our offensive execution,” Hopson said. “We executed at a better level and I thought up front we played real well. I was pretty pleased with that win.”

Gibbs has passed for 1,195 yards to lead the Braves’ offense. Senior wide receiver Terrance Lewis is second in the SWAC with 94 all-purpose yards per game.

Comegy said he was impressed with the job Hopson has done with the Braves in his first season. Alcorn went 2-8 in 2011 and was held to 14 points or less six times. They’ve doubled that win total this year and even handed Alabama A&M its first loss.

“The coach has done a fine job,” Comegy said. “He has them playing at a higher level than what they’ve been at in the past. He’s brought excitement to the program.”