Injuries affect Braves, Tigers in regular season finale

Published 12:11 am Saturday, November 28, 2015

This is a happy time in Lorman.

Alcorn State just clinched its second consecutive Southwestern Athletic Conference East Division championship. Its backup quarterback is the hottest player in the league. It’s Thanksgiving weekend and turkey is plentiful.

Only one thing could make it better — a win over archrival Jackson State (3-7, 3-5 SWAC) — and the Braves (7-3, 6-2) will try to get it Saturday afternoon when the teams meet at Jackson Memorial Stadium for the 80th time.

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“Rivalry games are always fun. It’s why you play college football. It’s a game where you have a lot of fan energy, and it’s a lot of fun,” Alcorn coach Jay Hopson said.

Jackson State leads the all-time series 44-33-2, and has won six of the last eight meetings. That includes a 34-31 victory last season in Lorman, when the Tigers scored two touchdowns in the last five minutes to stun the Braves.

Alcorn went on to win the SWAC championship game the following week. It’ll return to Houston next week to play Grambling in the conference title game. Hopson said the parallels from last year pretty much end there, however.

“We certainly had a few mistakes and breaks go against us (last year). We understand we have to be ready this year, and that’s all that matters,” Hopson said. “I just hope we dial in and have a good week of practice. That’s the biggest key. You can’t take anything for granted.”

A few weeks ago this was shaping up as a matchup of two of the SWAC’s best quarterbacks, with Alcorn’s John Gibbs, Jr. and Jackson State’s LaMontiez Ivy. Both quarterbacks, however, have suffered injuries.

Gibbs has missed three games with a sprained ankle and is listed as day-to-day. Ivy nursed an ankle injury against Alabama A&M on Oct. 17 and limped along before re-aggravating it in last week’s 17-12 loss to Alabama State. Ivy is out for the rest of the season.

In their place, understudies Lenorris Footman (Alcorn) and the tag team of Jordan Williams and Jarin Morikawa (JSU) are likely to start.

Neither Morikawa nor Williams have thrown an interception this season, but they’ve also thrown just three touchdown passes between them.

Hopson didn’t expect the Tigers to do anything radically different on offense with their backup quarterbacks that they weren’t doing with Ivy.

“They run their system. They’re both athletic guys, so it’s hard to say if there’s a difference,” Hopson said.

On the Alcorn side, there might be one. Footman might be even better than Gibbs, the 2014 SWAC Offensive Player of the Year.

Footman took over when Gibbs was injured early in the game against Southern on Oct. 31. He hasn’t been too impressive throwing the ball — he’s completed just 43.3 percent of his passes — but does have seven touchdowns against only one interception.

Footman has also rushed for 711 yards and nine touchdowns in the last four games, and is averaging 9.4 yards per carry.

“We’re blessed to have two really good quarterbacks,” Hopson said, repeating a line he’s used often over the past month.

Now it’s time for the battle of the backups, in a game that seems to be a mismatch on paper. Alcorn has already clinched the division title, while Jackson State fired head coach Harold Jackson in midseason and is assured of finishing with a losing record for the second straight year.

As last year’s game showed, however, anything can happen in a rivalry game — a fact Hopson and the Braves know all too well.

“They’ve played hard,” Hopson said of Jackson State. “They’ve lost a few close ones. Just the simple fact that it’s Alcorn-Jackson State, though, you can throw all the records and everything out the window.”

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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