For the first time since 2014, there is life after the Bayou Classic for the Southern football team, and once again it involves Alcorn State.
The Jaguars brought some balance back to its in-state rivalry with Grambling State in Saturday’s 38-28 victory. Now it tackles its geographically closest SWAC neighbor with a trip to the Celebration Bowl on the line.
The Jags have their work cut out for them against the East Division champs.
Alcorn State (8-3, 6-1) established its self as the class of the conference with victories over both Southern (20-3) and Grambling (33-26) earlier this year. The Braves lead the conference in total offense (471.3), total defense (283.4), scoring defense (20.6), rushing offense (274.3) and rushing defense (93.2). They are second in scoring offense (33.2).
In short, the Braves run and pass when they want to. On defense, they force teams to be one-dimensional and the key is the line play on both sides of the ball. Alcorn leads the league with 45 quarterback sacks and is third with 12 interceptions. The offensive line has allowed only 14 sacks, second best in the SWAC.
“I’m proud of the assistant coaches and the players for hanging in there and trusting the process,” Southern coach Dawson Odums said of Saturday’s win. “This is the reward on the journey. We get a chance to play another week.
“I thought we did a good job against (Alcorn) the first time but about the middle of the third quarter they made a couple of plays. We’re doing somethings differently that they’re going to have to prepare for.”
Alcorn's offense is led by quarterback Noah Johnson and running back De’Shawn Waller, who have combined to rush for 1,684 yards and 16 TDs. Johnson is averaging 7.1 yards per carry and Waller 5.7.
Defensively, end Terry Whittington and tackle Shippy Sterling each have 12.5 tackles for loss. Whittington is tied for third in the league with 7½ sacks and Sterling is tied for fifth with seven. Linebacker Trae Ferrell has five.
Sixth-year wide receiver Randall Manard entered the Bayou Classic with eight catches for 140 yards and two TDs but scored one of the Jags’ biggest TDs on a 44-yard pass from LaDarius Skelton to make the score 31-13 with 3:22 left in the third quarter.
A popular player for his work ethic and longevity, teammates took notice.
“It felt good to see that,” fellow wide receiver Kendall Catalon said. “He works hard. He’s been here a long time and seeing him get that touchdown. ... last two weeks he’s been in a groove. Seeing him happy makes me happy because he goes out with the bang.”
Odums declined to share his personal feelings on Southern’s Bayou Classic victory, the first in the series since 2014. Odums had his eye on the big picture, the three-year journey to rise from the ashes of APR restrictions, which end after this season.
“We’ve been down three years,” he said. “This is the last year of scholarship reductions. We’ve got nine seniors. A lot of guys are coming back. We’ve done it the right way. At end of the game, I was happy for the players, but my mind was already on to the next one. It’s another tall order in front of us.”
Freshman defensive end Jordan Lewis keeps on rolling. He had two more sacks against Grambling to raise his league-leading total to 11. At 195 pounds, the Jags have used him effectively on passing downs, although he’d like to see more action.
“He has an unbelievable first step and a continuous effort to pursue the passer,” Odums said. “He wants to play every down. We’re bringing him along. He’s our pass rush specialist. He creates some opportunities for us, a natural pass rusher. His ability to come off the corner makes it difficult for tackles at this level.”
Odums said Lewis was robbed of forced fumble stat — and more — when he sacked Grambling quarterback Geremy Hickbottom on the game’s final play. The ball popped loose and a Jaguar defender picked it up and stepped into the end zone. But officials ruled that Hickbottom was down when the ball came out. Odums said the fumble and TD should have counted.
“When the D-line scores, they get a pizza party,” Odums said. “They need to fix that stat. Those guys deserve that. It was a strip/fumble and scoop and score. It wasn’t blown dead. I feel bad. They won’t get pizza. Maybe somebody will donate it or something.”
SWAC championship tickets
The Southern University ticket office will sell $32 general admission tickets for the game starting 9 a.m. Tuesday. The ticket office will be open Tuesday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. prior to the start of the home basketball games. The SU ticket office will be open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesday and Friday.
Fans attempting to purchase tickets on gameday must purchase them at the Alcorn State Ticket Office.
Online tickets are also available at www.impacttickets.com.
The cost of general admission is $30, while reserved seating is $40 and Purple Seats $60. Children under two years old get in free.
Gameday parking can also be purchased with prices of $20 for General Event Parking, $50 Premium, $60 General Tailgate, $75 Reserve Tailgate, $75 Bus, $100 RV Dry Camp, $125 RV Reserved Lot, and $100 VIP.
For more information on tickets, call the SU ticket office at 225-771-3171.
“I think we are 11-2 after a bye week. Somebody will probably be calling trying to ask what we do. It’s no secret. It’s all about the mental approach to the game. Our guys mindsets were where they need to be.” Southern coach Dawson Odums