Alcorn scores rare home win over archrival JSU

Published 8:27 pm Saturday, November 19, 2016

By Reed DeSalvo

The Natchez Democrat

LORMAN — Alcorn State fans cheered, danced and celebrated as it hosted Southwestern Athletic Conference foe Jackson State in Lorman for just the third time in a little over two decades. The party got louder when the Braves finally won.

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Solomon Muhammad returned a blocked punt late in the third quarter for a score to put his team ahead, and running back De’Lance Turner and the defense did the rest as the Braves topped their East Division rival 35-16 in the regular-season finale for both teams.

It’s Alcorn’s first win over Jackson State in Lorman since 1994. The rivalry game was played as a neutral site game in Jackson from 1999-2011. Alcorn had lost the last two games against JSU at Jack Spinks Stadium before the Capital City Classic era, and then the first two after it was brought back to campus.

Alcorn has won three of the last four meetings overall in the series.

“Beating our archrival here at home on The Reservation, that means a lot to me,” first-year Alcorn coach Fred McNair said. “This is where I’m from. As a head coach, it’s always special.”

Muhammad’s 59-yard return came at a pivotal point late in the third quarter as Alcorn (5-5, 5-4 SWAC) was struggling to sustain any consistent offense. It put the Braves ahead 21-16 with 2:30 left in the third quarter, and they never trailed again.

“I saw the ball go up, and somebody had to make a play,” Muhammad said. “I picked the ball up, and it was over with … I had to do it for my team. I knew I wasn’t going to get caught.”

The freshman linebacker’s rumble down the sideline gave the Braves the lead and all of the momentum. Alcorn finished the game on a 21-0 run, and Turner churned out 80 of his team-leading 129 yards rushing in the fourth quarter.

Quarterback Noah Johnson scored on a 33-yard run and wide receiver Tavares Johnson, Jr., a former Vicksburg High star, had a 13-yard touchdown run.

“(Jackson State) knew it was over after that; that changed the game,” Turner said of the blocked punt. “They just gave up, and we started putting it down their throat.”

Alcorn outgained Jackson State (3-8, 3-6) for the game 379 total yards to 308.

Noah Johnson was just 7-of-21 passing for 86 yards and an interception, but he did gain 81 rushing yards and scored a touchdown.

The Braves leaned on Turner and the ground game to run out the final five-plus minutes of the contest. McNair said he and the rest of his coaching staff were pleased with the way the offense closed out the game. Alcorn finished with 293 rushing yards, and four players scored a touchdown on the ground.

“Being able to run the clock out without giving them the ball back was real good for us,” McNair said. “We don’t want to give the ball back. We did a good job with the 4-minute offense and doing the things it took to run the clock out.”

Not to be outdone, the Alcorn State defense provided a number of highlight plays. The Braves recorded five sacks and forced two turnovers, including a one-handed interception in the end zone from Javen Morrison.

“It was just a regular play,” Morrison said. “I just made a play. It helped us get the ball back. We’re starting to put things together at the right time.”

Jackson State only had 51 rushing yards. Quarterback Jarin Morikawa was 15-of-30 passing for 257 yards, with two touchdowns, one interception and one lost fumble that set up a key Alcorn touchdown.

On the ensuing possession following Muhammad’s return, Alcorn defensive end Stacey Garner broke free into the JSU backfield and forced a fumble by Morikawa. Linebacker Darien Anderson scooped up the loose ball and rumbled to the JSU 33-yard line.

On the next play, Noah Johnson burst through the center of the defense and into the end zone, putting the Braves ahead 28-16.

“The defense played (all) out, and that’s the way they’ve been playing all year,” McNair said. “The things they’ve been doing all year in putting pressure on the quarterback … we knew they were going to throw the ball 50-plus times, and that was something we were going to take pride in (applying pressure).”

Alcorn won’t be back in action until Dec. 3 when it plays the winner of next week’s Grambling State-Southern game in the SWAC championship in Houston. Alcorn is going for its third consecutive SWAC championship, but lost to both West Division frontrunners in the regular season.

“We’ll be ready to play whoever comes out of the West,” McNair said.