SWAC preview: Alcorn State seeks repeat in balanced league _lowres

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- Alcorn State quarterback John Gibbs Jr.

HOUSTON — Alcorn State quarterback John Gibbs Jr. played Saturday afternoon at the NRG Stadium like he was at home, the way he maneuvered around Southern’s defense, passing and rushing the Braves to a 38-24 win in the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship game.

That’s because Gibbs was home.

The home stadium proved to be sweet for the Houston native, and not so much for Southern, which for the second time this season failed to derail one of the conference’s youngest and brightest playmakers.

“(The defense told us) ‘You score a touchdown, we’ll stop them,’” Gibbs said, who liked the agreement. “At times, we had three three-and-outs that were bad, but the defense kept us in the game.”

And allowed Gibbs, quicker to talk about his few struggles against Southern than his many successes, time to complete seven of 16 third-down conversions and score all five times inside the Southern 20.

Gibbs, named earlier this week as the SWAC’s co-Offensive Player of the Year, finished with 245 passing yards and three touchdowns. He was not sacked. Just as difficult to manage for the Jaguars: Gibbs had 16 carries for 137 yards, including a long of 50 yards that showcased his second-year progression.

“John has really improved,” said Alcorn State running back Anthony Williams III, a native of Jeanerette. “He’s done what he’s had to do to get better for the team: great reads, handing the ball off, whatever it takes.”

Gibbs broke through Southern’s defense with his ability to break a long gain on any play. Hard to tackle, hard to catch, he tormented bigger defensive linemen and broke tackles from equally sized defensive backs.

“They pretty much ran the ball down our throat,” Southern defensive end Arthur Miley said. “We had a couple of drives where we stopped them (but not enough).”

Gibbs was responsible for more than half of Alcorn State’s rushing total (230).

“We were going to make John beat us,” Southern coach Dawson Odums said. “The first time (65-16 loss on Sept. 27 in Lorman, Mississippi), we tried to take the ball out of his hands. That didn’t go so well.”

Saturday wasn’t much better.

His biggest plays occurred on Alcorn’s sixth play from scrimmage: a 50-yard run that set the tone for a losing Saturday for the Jaguars.

And a happy one for Gibbs, who three plays later, threw the first of his touchdown passes.

“John played tremendous,” Alcorn State coach Jay Hopson said. “He’s been our leader since he got here.”