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Alcorn beats MVSU

Alcorn’s Darius Smith dodges Mississippi Valley State’s Garrick Jones during their game Saturday afternoon at Alcorn State University. (Eric Shelton \ The Natchez Democrat)

LORMAN — It was a tale of two halves for the Alcorn State offense Saturday night, but the defense stayed solid throughout and powered the Braves to their first victory of the season.

The Braves’ 39-14 win over Mississippi Valley State was a welcome site for first-year head coach Melvin Spears. The Braves dropped their first two SWAC games of the season prior to beating the Delta Devils Saturday night.

“(The win is) huge. Anytime you are 0-2, and you’ve been anemic for 17 years in winning a championship, and you haven’t won a whole bunch of games around here (it’s important). We just needed a win,” Spears said.

The Alcorn defense held the Delta Devils to just 14 points on 331 yards of total offense. The Braves’ defense was also opportunistic and forced three Mississippi Valley State turnovers.

“Defensively we’ve been doing a pretty good job,” Spears said. “Anytime you’re starting nine new individuals it’s going to take a little time to gel. Tonight it was just a stellar effort from our defensive guys.”

Darius Smith got the start at quarterback Saturday night for the Braves to give Brandon Bridge some rest. Spears said Bridge was nicked up after last week’s loss to Arkansas Pine Bluff, and his plan was to rest him until he was needed.

“He was still a little sore, and we tried to hold him off as long as week could, but when things got tough we had to go to him to get a little momentum and play the more seasoned guy,” Spears said. “But I thought Darius (Smith) did a good job.”

Smith finished his night with 144 yards passing with one touchdown and one interception. Bridge came into the game in the second half with Alcorn up 10-7 and led the Braves to a touchdown on their first possession of the second half. Bridge finished his night with 148 yards passing with two touchdowns. He also added a touchdown run.

“I think what made the difference in the second half was their whole scheme, because the whole second half they probably game-planned on how to stop Darius, but when I came out there the first drive we went down and scored because their whole line was like, ‘Hey we had No. 11 in there and now No. 7 is in there so how are we going to defend him?’ And when (Smith) went back in there they had to go back.”

Terrance Lewis had a big night receiving for the Braves. He caught three passes for 103 yards, including a 55-yard touchdown reception from Smith.

“I was actually mad, because I muffed a punt (before the touchdown reception), so I knew I had to come back and make a play, because I didn’t want coach to be on me,” Lewis said. “My confidence was sky high (after the touchdown), because when you mess up you get down on yourself, and when I came back and made that big play it came right back up.”

Rodney Whitmore Jr. caught two passes for 79 yards, including a 72-yard touchdown strike from Bridge. Simon Collier added four receptions for 71 yards for the Braves.

Alcorn State opened the scoring in the first quarter on an eight-play, 63-yard drive that was capped off by a 1-yard run by Arnold Walker. Arturo Tamayo added the extra point and Alcorn led 7-0 after almost 11 minutes of play.

The Braves got great field position on their next possession after forcing Mississippi Valley State into a three-and-out inside their own 20-yard-line. Mississippi Valley State’s punt only travelled 20 yards, and Alcorn took over from the Mississippi Valley State 32-yard-line.

The Braves were unable to take advantage of the great field position and settled for a 40-yard field goal by Tamayo to take a 10-0 lead at the beginning of the second quarter.

Mississippi Valley State answered the Tamayo field goal with an 11-play, 78-yard drive capped off by an 8-yard touchdown pass from Garrick Jones to Paul Cox. The key play in the drive was a 34-yard screen pass on fourth down and 3 from Jones to Kenneth Dabney that went for 34 yards.

Mississippi Valley State would threaten again on its next possession after Trey Bateaste took a first down carry 74 yards down to the Alcorn State 9-yard-line. Alcorn’s defense would stiffen, and on third and goal from the 9-yard-line Delta Devils’ running back Brandon Stansell was intercepted on an option pass in the end zone by Alcorn’s Jacques Caldwell.

Alcorn would threaten again on its next possession, but after advancing to the Mississippi Valley 30-yard-line, Collier fumbled after a 19-yard completion and Mississippi Valley’s Kadeem Clark recovered at the 7-yard-line to end the Alcorn threat. The Braves would turn the ball over again on their next possession when Smith was intercepted by Mississippi Valley’s Marquis Floyd. Floyd returned the interception 47 yards before Alcorn offensive lineman Keyun Swinney made a touchdown-saving tackle.

The Braves defense would hold after the turnover and Alcorn took a three-point lead into the half.

Alcorn extended its lead early in the second half on Bridge’s 1-yard touchdown run to cap off a 45-yard drive. The Braves defense again set the offense up with good field position after forcing Mississippi Valley to punt from inside its own 20-yard-line.

Mississippi Valley State would cut the score to 17-14 with 4:02 left in the third quarter after scoring on a 1-yard quarterback sneak by Marvin Pittman. The Delta Devils’ score was set up by the fumbled punt return by Lewis that gave Mississippi Valley State the ball on Alcorn’s 19-yard-line.

Turnovers were an issue all evening for the Braves, as two turnovers ended drives in Mississippi Valley State territory and a third set up a touchdown.

Lewis would get redemption on Alcorn’s next drive with his 55-yard catch from Smith for a touchdown. Tamayo missed the extra point, and Alcorn led 23-14 with two minutes to go in the third quarter.

The Braves’ passing attack would stretch the lead to 29-14 early in the fourth quarter when Bridge found Whitmore Jr. on a 72-yard touchdown strike. The point after was blocked.

Alcorn put the game out of reach with 7:35 remaining when Bridge found Jerry Salas for a 4-yard touchdown pass. Tamayo’s kick made the score 36-14. The Braves defense set up the score when Robert Gainwell sacked Mississippi Valley quarterback Eddie Ivory and forced a fumble that was recovered by Alcorn defensive lineman Brandon Morris on the Delta Devils’ 36-yard-line.

The Alcorn defense struck again on Mississippi Valley State’s next possession when Brandon Thompson intercepted an Ivory pass and returned it 57 yards down to the Delta Devils’ 7-yard line. The Alcorn offense was unable to punch the ball in the end zone, however, and the Braves were forced to settle for a 21-yard field goal by Tamayo to make the score 39-14.

Alcorn State (1-2, 1-2) will travel to Houston to play Texas Southern next week.