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A Brave comeback: Fake punt sparks Alcorn offense in game-winning drive

LAUREN WOOD / THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Alcorn State University quarterback John Gibbs carries the ball as Southern University’s Levi Jackson dives for the tackle during Saturday’s game at Jack Spinks Stadium. Alcorn defeated Southern 20-17.

lorman — With the Alcorn State football team trailing 17-14 and looking at giving the football back to Southern University with under six minutes to go in the game, head coach Jay Hopson pulled out his bag of tricks.

The Braves faced a fourth down with 5 yards to go from their own 34-yard line and were lined up in punt formation when Alondrea Young, the upback in the formation, took the snap and scampered for 12 yards and an Alcorn first down.

LAUREN WOOD / THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Alcorn State University’s Joe Price catches a pass from Gibbs before running it into the end zone for a touchdown during Saturday’s game against Southern University.

That play sparked an Alcorn offense — that had struggled in its four previous possessions — to a 15-play, 71-yard drive that Jordan Payne capped off with a 1-yard touchdown plunge.

Payne’s second score of the game came with just 15 seconds left on the clock and gave Alcorn a 20-17 lead.

The Jaguars blocked the extra point to keep the differential at three, and Southern had one last gasp. But the Braves tackled Southern offensive lineman Zach Brown after he received a desperation lateral with no time on the clock, and Alcorn got its first home win under Hopson.

“I thought the opportunity presented itself,” Hopson said about the fake-punt call. “I was actually going to do it the series before. Obviously it was pretty big.”

Alcorn scored the first two touchdowns of the game and led 14-0 before Southern managed to get on the board.

Payne scored on a 2-yard run early in the second quarter for the Braves’ first touchdown, and true freshman quarterback John Gibbs found running back Joe Price on a 38-yard swing pass that capped off a 95-yard drive for Alcorn.

Southern finally made a big play when quarterback Dray Joseph connected with wide out Michael Berry for a 75-yard touchdown pass that came just one play after Gibbs’ touchdown. Anthony Williams blocked Southern’s extra point, and Alcorn led 14-6.

The long pass play accounted for more than one-third of the 220 total yards Southern put up in the contest. Alcorn finished with 341 yards offensively.

“I think (the defense) is slowly getting better every week,” Hopson said.

The Jaguars defense stepped up on the next two possessions to hold Alcorn to an interception and a three-and-out before Southern’s special teams made a play.

Virgil Williams fielded an Alcorn punt at midfield and broke free down the right sideline for what looked to be an easy punt-return touchdown. When Williams reached the 1-yard line the ball slipped out of his hands, but Southern’s D’Andre Woodland managed to fall on it in the end zone for a touchdown.

“I don’t know what happened,” Williams said about the fumble. “I guess I was just holding it too tight, and it slipped out.”

Fortunately for Williams, his teammate was there to bail him out and made the score 14-12. Joseph found Berry on the two-point conversion pass to tie the game at 14.

It appeared that Alcorn would take the lead right back on the ensuing kickoff when Terrance Lewis broke a 92-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, but the score was called back on a penalty, and Gibbs threw an interception two plays later.

Gibbs was one of three players to take a snap for the Braves Saturday, and Hopson said that has been Alcorn’s offense all season.

Gibbs finished 15-of-22 passing for 170 yards and one touchdown, but he also threw two costly interceptions.

“John is a great character guy and a great leader for a freshman with great composure for a freshman,” Hopson said. “He’s still growing of course, and he made two or three big mistakes, but that’s natural as a true freshman.”

Southern turned the Gibbs interception into a 32-yard field goal and a 17-14 lead with 10:47 left in the game.

Alcorn’s defense forced a three-and-out on Southern’s next possession to get the ball back to Gibbs, so he could make up for his miscues and lead the offense to the win.

“The team had my back 24/7, the whole game,” Gibbs said.

Alcorn used what Hopson called his “quarterback by committee” offense perfectly in the final drive. Gibbs led the team down the field on a drive that featured 13 rushing plays, and Payne came in to finish the drive off with a short run.

“Coach kind of established that I am more of a power quarterback,” Payne said. “I can take all the pounding, and we use that a lot with me in short yardage during the game.

“Personally I was just thinking I better get in the end zone. All season I’ve been able to at least get some type of positive gain, so there was no way we shouldn’t get in the end zone.”

Payne made the most of his six carries by gaining 13 yards and scoring two touchdowns. Arnold Walker led Alcorn in rushing with 59 yards. Lewis finished the game with 50 yards receiving and 20 rushing.

The win gets Alcorn back to .500 in SWAC play at 2-2. The Braves are 2-4 overall.

“A win always feels good, but certainly it’s good to get it at home,” Hopson said.

Alcorn will travel to Huntsville, Ala., to face Alabama A&M University next week.


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