Fans have barely cracked open their popcorn boxes for Saturday’s game between Southern and Alcorn State when Virgil Williams returns the opening kickoff for a touchdown, giving the Jaguars a quick lead.
Inside A.W. Mumford Stadium, a large, happy crowd erupts as the team celebrates in the end zone.
Then the special-teams unit comes on for the extra point.
Which kicking specialist joins his teammates in the huddle? Is it Manuel Canto, whose end-of-the-game PAT was blocked in a 22-21 loss at Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Oct. 15? Or is it Matt Hill, who missed a PAT and one of his two field-goal attempts earlier in the UAPB game?
Who gets the call?
Asked about the matter this week, SU coach Stump Mitchell paused. For six seconds, he was completely silent.
His eventual response:
“I don’t know right now. Is it OK to say ?I don’t know right now’? OK; I’m going to say, ?Right now, I don’t know.’ They’re going to go out and practice, and hopefully, the guy that has the best week of practice kicking PATs and field goals will be the guy.”
So there you have it.
As the Jaguars (2-5, 2-3 Southwestern Athletic Conference) prepare to host Alcorn (2-4, 1-4) at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, their top place-kicker has a name: To Be Determined.
Place-kicking issues have haunted Southern for much of this season - unlike last year, when then-freshman William Griswold was rock-steady, connecting on 15 of 20 field goals and all 25 of his PATs.
Griswold withdrew from SU last summer; his family said he’d lost interest in football.
Canto, who handles kickoffs and punts, began this season as the No. 1 place-kicker, but he gave way to Hill after the third game of the season.
Together, the two kickers are 16-for-20 on extra points and 2-for-5 on field goals.
Their up-and-down play has also led Mitchell to attempt 15 fourth-down conversions, the second-highest number in the SWAC (Texas Southern has tried 35).
Officially, the Jaguars were 1-for-2 on field goals against Jackson State, though a third attempt counted as a running play because Southern botched the snap and hold. The Jaguars lost by four points, 28-24.
Then, in their last game, they missed one field goal and two extra points in a one-point loss.
Canto’s extra-point attempt, with no time remaining, was his first try since Sept. 17.
“I’m not giving up on either one of those guys,” Mitchell said.
QB Bridge leaving Alcorn?
Sophomore quarterback Brandon Bridge, who made a splash last season as nifty runner and strong-armed passer, might have played his last down at Alcorn.
A Twitter account titled “@Air_Canada_7,” identified as belonging to Bridge, included this message Wednesday afternoon: “No longer apart of the alcorn state braves. #LOOKINGFORANEWHOME”
Bridge, a native of Mississauga, Ontario, earned the nickname “Air Canada” as a freshman last season, when he threw for 2,086 yards and ran for 601 yards.
But he struggled to adjust to new coach Melvin Spears’ spread-style offense, and Darius Smith has taken over as the team’s No. 1 quarterback, having started the past two games.
Attempts to reach Bridge and Spears were unsuccessful Wednesday.
Spears said Monday that although Bridge is “an excellent athlete,” but that the team needed “a guy to be the conductor” of the offense, adding that Smith had performed well of late.
Ankles on the mend?
Defensive linemen Traé Tiller, Delwin Williams and Jeffrey Watkins, all of whom are nursing ankle injuries, returned to practice Tuesday and appeared to run at full speed.
Mitchell said he hopes to have offensive lineman Zach Brown back in time for Saturday’s game. Brown, a freshman, severely sprained his left ankle Sept. 24 against Florida A&M.
Mitchell also said he hopes to have tackle/tight end Clinton Boyd back in time for next week’s game at Texas Southern.
Boyd underwent arthroscopic surgery Oct. 11.
At the time, Mitchell said Boyd would probably miss the rest of the season.
Get there early
Expecting a larger-than-average crowd, Southern is asking that fans make it to campus “at least two hours early” for Saturday’s game, which kicks off at 5:30.
SU said in a statement it “expects a large number of fans and tailgaters which could cause stalled traffic attempting to enter the campus.”
Previous homecoming games have created traffic problems. The 2009 homecoming game, against Fort Valley State, included a bumper-to-bumper line of cars that stretched along the Harding Boulevard overpass as late as halftime.
That game was a sellout. Last year’s homecoming game, a 38-20 win over Mississippi Valley State, drew a crowd of 19,762 and also included heavy incoming traffic before kickoff.
Tickets for the Alcorn game range from $15-$40. For information, call (225) 771-3171 or (225) 771-2596.
SU is asking fans to wear gold to Saturday’s game. ... Southern’s minus-5 turnover margin this season is tied for seventh in the SWAC, ahead of only Jackson State (minus-13) and Prairie View (minus-14). Alcorn ranks second at plus-8. ... The Jaguars plan to wear Columbia blue jerseys and pants in the home finale. ... Saturday’s forecast calls for sunny skies and a high of 70 degrees, with a low of 41, according to the National Weather Service.