Showdown in Lorman: Braves host Grambling today

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 9, 2003

LORMAN &045; Already in Week 2 there’s a postseason atmosphere hovering around the Alcorn campus.

Shoot, September just started and folks are revved up like it’s the final week of the season. That’s because the Braves &045; having knocked on the door the past two seasons &045; have a chance to break it open today when they host three-time defending SWAC champ Grambling at 7 p.m. at Jack Spinks Stadium.

That buzz, however, has finally caught on. The players have been that way for quite some time.

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&uot;To tell you the truth, it’s Grambling. It’s huge,&uot; senior linebacker Omega Logan said. &uot;They’ve won the SWAC championship the last three years and the black college national championship. It’s just like the team that beats the Super Bowl champion from last year.&uot;

So even though it’s just Week 2 of the season, there’s plenty on the line for the Braves in what should be a packed house. It’s so big the kickoff got pushed back an hour to accommodate MBC, and Gov. Ronnie Musgrove will be the guest of honor for the coin toss.

&uot;This is one of the biggest games of the season for us,&uot; Alcorn

head coach Johnny Thomas said. &uot;With Grambling being No. 1 for the last three years in the SWAC and black college football, that has propelled them as the most respected team in black college football. If we’re able to play well against Grambling or perhaps beat Grambling, that would propel us into that national spotlight as far as being recognized as a rising quality football team.

&uot;We have everything to gain by winning this football game. I think the guys understand that and are prepared for that. We’re just looking forward to the challenge we have.&uot;

It’s at a critical time for the Tigers, who come into the contest following an off week after their 29-0 season-opening loss at Division I-A San Jose State. The game gave the Tigers a chance to be on national TV and was the first team in the SWAC &045; and the nation, for that matter &045; to start the season.

The offense struggled that game with a injured Tramon Douglas at receiver, but don’t be fooled by that score.

&uot;Twenty-two scholarships &045; which means more quality players and you have a little more to work with,&uot; Grambling head coach Doug Williams said afterward. &uot;I am not using that as an excuse because we have a lot of guys on this football team who can play for San Jose State and a lot of other places. I think we let some opportunities get away from us early. We did not take advantage of a couple of situations that they gave us offensively.&uot;

The Tigers never got in sync offensively that day with quarterback Bruce Eugene failing to connect with the All-American Douglas, a connection that’s hard to stop when it’s on. Eugene is the biggest focal point of the Alcorn defense as the preseason SWAC MVP is a threat on the ground and in the air and will keep the Braves’ coaching staff on its toes.

&uot;He’s an athlete,&uot; Logan said of Eugene. &uot;That’s all I can say about him. When you’ve got athletes like that, I don’t think you can actually prepare for him. You have to go out and play excellent football. You can’t predict what he’s going to do, and you can’t predict what we’re going to do.&uot;

Prediction, no, but coaches have a good idea. For starters, Eugene engineered an eight-play, 100-yard drive for a score in last year’s showdown to lead the Tigers to a 41-35 win over Alcorn.

It’s mostly through the pass Eugene and the Tigers operate, and they’ll go from there.

&uot;They can throw it very well and have outstanding receivers, and they have an outstanding offensive line,&uot; Thomas said. &uot;Eugene is a mobile quarterback and a big quarterback that throws the football, and I think he does an pretty good job of reading defenses.&uot;

The Braves’ offense, meanwhile, will match up against a Grambling defense that held its own against San Jose State, better than that 29-0 score sounds. Often the defense was put in bad situations, and eventually the Spartans rallied for scores in the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach.

&uot;Their defense can play, and I’m serious about that,&uot; Thomas said. &uot;They’ve got people that can move and tackle. They’re very quick. That’s all I can say about Grambling. They’ve got very talented defensive ball players. They can hold their own.&uot;

Defense may be the key since both teams lit it up in last year’s showdown, and the Braves were impressive in that area in last week’s win over UAPB. Now is the biggest test, one that can’t result in allowing 41 points again.

&uot;It was good to start off defensively the way we did,&uot; ASU safety Tim Batts said. &uot;It gives us confidence going into the next game. We’ve got to be focused.&uot;