HOUSTON — Southern’s offense struggled Saturday afternoon against Alcorn State.
Especially the wide receivers.
While Willie Quinn made a few plays — his biggest on special teams — the rest of the Jaguars receivers spent the 2014 Southwestern Athletic Conference game at NRG Stadium as an nonfactor.
Quinn’s 59 yards on six catches, a below-average output for him this season, still dwarfed the receiving yards of fellow wide receivers Mike Jones (17), Samuel Altman (6) and Justin Morgan (2).
One week earlier, Jones caught three passes for 130 yards and two scores to help Southern beat Grambling State in the Bayou Classic.
A shaky passing game, coupled with other offensive setbacks, contributed to a 38-24 loss.
Quinn was able to score in the second quarter on an 86-yard punt return. Quinn had five 100-yard receiving outings, he also has six games with less than 50 receiving yards.
Matchup of two QBs
The SWAC title game was played between two of the league’s top quarterbacks.
Alcorn State’s John Gibbs Jr. shared the SWAC’s offensive player of the year award, while Southern’s Austin Howard earned freshman of the year honors.
Gibbs led the Braves to an Eastern Division title and the team’s first berth in the conference championship game. He entered Saturday’s game with 2,237 yards and 18 touchdowns, along with 874 rushing yards this season and another 11 TDs. Howard led the Jaguars to their second straight SWAC Championship appearance. Following last Saturday’s Bayou Classic win, he had passed for 2,182 yards and 17 TDs this season.
Southern also placed the following players on the SWAC first team: Offensive linemen DeWayne Houston and Zach Brown, receiver Willie Quinn, defensive linemen Arthur Miley. Running back Lenard Tillery, defensive lineman Gabe Echols, defensive back Danny Johnson and Quinn (special teams) earned second-team honors.
Including Gibbs, 12 Alcorn State players earned first and second-team honors.
Sharing the SWAC Offensive MVP honors was running back Malcolm Cyrus of Alabama State University. First-year Grambling State coach Broderick Fobbs was named Coach of the Year. Also, linebacker Darian Claibourne (Texas Southern) and quarterback Quantavius Peterson (Mississippi Valley State) shared newcomer of the year honors. Prairie View A&M University linebacker Jerome Howard earned the defensive player of the year award.
Soden sits early
Southern sophomore Paul Randall Soden watched his team’s first two punts from the sideline, a deviation from his normal starting duties.
Instead, Murphy Nash III handled the first two (33-yard average). Nash had one touchback and landed one punt inside the Alcorn 20. Soden entered the game in the second quarter, his bouncing 35-yard punt leading to an Alcorn turnover.
Entering Saturday’s game, Soden had 59 punts; Murphy had three.
Not fooled this time
This time, Southern was ready for Alcorn State’s offensive trickery.
The Jaguars defense held its coverage in the second quarter when Zerick Rollins Jr. caught a pass near the right sideline before throwing it across the field to Gibbs. He was then tackled from behind by Rhaheim Ledbetter, causing him to fumble out of bounds.
On Sept. 27, receiver Zerick Rollins shocked the Southern defense in the first quarter, completing a 35-yard TD pass to LaDarrien Davis. The score, the first of five consecutive TDs for the Braves, started a 56-16 rout.
“It was a different type of trick play, but it wasn’t set up the way we wanted it,” Rollins said. “I could have actually ran the ball, but I decided to throw it back to John. My coaches told me if it’s there take it; if it’s not, don’t rush it.”
This season, Rollins has thrown three TD passes.
A costly penalty
On one play in the second quarter, Donald Phillips was too excited about reaching Gibbs, and it led to Alcorn’s third score, giving the Braves a 17-3 lead.
On the play, Phillips was part of a group of Southern defenders to grab Gibbs during one of his many rushes. Gibbs was stood up, leading to a whistle by officials to end the third-and-4 play. Phillips, though, while continuing to drive Gibbs backwards, fell to the turf, taking Gibbs with him.
Alcorn received 15 yards on the penalty and an automatic first down. Seven plays later, Anthony Williams III scored from 12 yards.
‘An Alcorn Brave for life’
Jeanerette native Anthony Williams III made a lot of his friends and family proud of him Saturday — and also upset, at least a little.
Williams, a senior, rushed nine times for 26 yards and one score. He also caught three passes for 21 yards.
“I have a lot of friends that are Southern fans, but I’m an Alcorn Brave for life,” Williams said.
Williams said he had a scholarship offer from Southern at some point in his recruiting process, but his future appeared set across state lines.
A drop coming
With Saturday’s loss, Southern is expected to drop Tuesday in the Sheridan poll of black colleges. It was the top-ranked HBCU program in the nation this week.
Bethune-Cookman was second, followed by Alcorn State.