LORMAN, Miss. — Southern had its chances to seize momentum Saturday at Alcorn State, but falling behind on the scoreboard left little room for error.
Sporting the Southwestern Athletic Conference’s most prolific offense, Alcorn was relentless as it pulled away from Southern in the second half, showing off an impressively balanced attack as it routed the Jaguars 56-16 at Spinks-Casem Stadium.
The final score might have been more lopsided were it not for the Braves’ occasionally sloppy play. They fumbled six times, and although the Jaguars recovered four of them, their defense had few answers for the Alcorn offense.
Third downs, in particular, were a problem for the Southern defense, as the Braves converted on 11 of 15 opportunities (the Jaguars, meanwhile, were 8-for-19).
“On third down, you’ve got to make plays,” Southern coach Dawson Odums said. “They kicked our butt (defensively) on third down, and offensively they kicked our butt on third down. They just made plays.”
Southern had chances to turn the tide and put pressure on Alcorn in each half. Instead, the Braves responded with a signature drive each time.
The first began late in the first quarter with the score tied at 7. Alcorn was facing third-and-7 at its own 14 when Southern called for a blitz. On the play, defensive back Danny Johnson intercepted Alcorn quarterback John Gibbs at the 40 and returned it down the sideline to the Braves’ 1.
But the play didn’t count.
Southern defensive back Rhaheim Ledbetter, who was near the line of scrimmage preparing to blitz, started too early and was flagged for being offside. Instead of taking over near the goal line or forcing a punt, Southern’s defense subsequently surrendered a first down on third-and-short.
A 51-yard completion by Gibbs and two runs by Brandon Vessell — the last a 12-yard burst up the middle — completed the 89-yard Alcorn scoring drive. The Braves took the lead for good at 14-7 and added quick scores on their next two possessions to take a 28-7 lead.
Southern worked its way to within 28-16 at halftime — but early in the third quarter, Alcorn put together another defining drive. This time the Braves went 98 yards in 10 plays, powering their way through two third downs early in the drive.
After that, a 23-yard Gibbs completion and an 18-yard run by Darryan Ragsdale set up the clincher — a 21-yard touchdown run by Jaborian McKenzie on a reverse.
Alcorn’s running-and-passing balance kept the Southern defense off balance the rest of the game. The Braves rolled up 682 yards from scrimmage — 410 on the ground, 272 through the air.
“It gets frustrating,” SU linebacker Brian McCain said. “You’re in a battle and you don’t know what to expect. You load up to stop the run, and then they complete a pass behind you. It was frustrating, and it led to 50 points on the scoreboard.”
Odums didn’t make excuses for the youthful depth on his defense but said it was a factor he expects to change as the Jaguars gain experience.
“You’ve got to learn when you have so many guys that are new. It takes time,” Odums said. “There’s not a whole lot you can do when you’re playing redshirt freshmen and true freshmen. (Alcorn) is a senior football team. They executed and we didn’t.”
Junior linebacker Demetrius Carter echoed that sentiment, saying the defense played well but failed to take advantage of chances later in the game.
“The most frustrating part was we were busting a lot of stuff early,” Carter said. “The defense was there, but we just didn’t execute (later). That was the frustrating part.”