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Stalled out: Alcorn has trouble finishing drives, gives up big plays in loss

Alcorn State University’s Arnold Walker holds onto the ball as he is brought down by University of Arkansas Pine Bluff defenders during Saturday’s game at Henderson Stadium. Alcorn fell to Pine Bluff, 24-6. (Lauren Wood \ The Natchez Democrat)

LORMAN — An inability to sustain drives and missed opportunities spelled trouble for Alcorn State University Saturday in the Braves’ home opener.

Meanwhile, SWAC opponent Arkansas Pine Bluff took advantage of a couple of big plays to pull away from the Braves 24-6.

The numbers didn’t lie for the Braves: Despite a balanced offense that moved the ball fairly well, the Braves converted just one of four scoring opportunities in the red zone.

Despite only trailing 7-6 at the half, the game quickly got away from Alcorn in the third when Pine Bluff’s Kevin Rucker Jr. broke several Braves defenders and ran 54 yards for a touchdown to put the Golden Lions ahead 14-6 with 3:15 left in the third.

“I thought the defense in the second and third quarter started playing pretty stout, then we had three guys on (Rucker) and couldn’t bring him down,” Alcorn head coach Jay Hopson said. “We just slid off of him.”

A field goal by Tyler Strickland with only eight seconds left in the third made things even tougher for Alcorn, as the Braves simply could not convert yards to points.

“After (Rucker’s) touchdown, I thought we kind of sputtered offensively,” Hopson said. “Defensively, we had some minus field positions, but when they got that field goal, then you’re down more than one score. I thought the kids kept fighting, but like I told them, this was a game Pine Bluff deserved to win.”

Another telling stat for Alcorn was nine total punts, illustrating further Alcorn’s frustrations on offense.

“At the end of the day, give Pine Bluff credit, they stopped us,” Hopson said. “I thought there was a couple of time we probably could have moved the chains, but we just didn’t execute. It’s part of where we are right now, and we’ll get better.”

Pine Bluff scored first on a 10-yard touchdown pass from Benjamin Anderson to Dezmond Beverly with 1:27 left in the third quarter to go up 7-0. Alcorn scored on a 2-yard carry by Anthony Williams, but a botched snap on the PAT led to the Braves trailing 7-6 after scoring.

The Golden Lions added another touchdown with 4:48 left in the game on a 35-yard carry by Anderson, which was again the result of missed tackles by Alcorn defenders.

“We’re a team that has to do the little things right all the time,” Hopson said. “We’re not good enough not to do the little things right all the time.”

Darius Smith was 15-for-35 in passing with 118 yards. Anderson finished 16 of 28 for 152 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

Rucker tallied 72 yards on five carries for the Golden Lions. No one for Alcorn rushed for more than 30 yards.

“It’s a game where, if we learn from it, we’ll grow from it,” Hopson said. “That’s something we have to do. If we don’t, we won’t.

Alcorn (1-2, 1-1) will play at Arkansas State next Saturday.