Thomas optimistic despite record

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 31, 2003

LORMAN &045; In Texas, where things are always considered bigger than anywhere else on the planet, a win for Alcorn State would have been colossal last Saturday.

The Braves were looking to push past the .500 mark in Southwestern Athletic Conference play and undercut a hot Texas Southern team that was trying to maintain its place among the West elite with Southern and Grambling, both of whom are undefeated in SWAC play.

And with a little more than six minutes left it appeared Alcorn had gotten its hands around that monstrosity of a win after Ken Williams put them ahead 20-16 on a 16-yard touchdown reception from Donald Carrie.

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However, similar to earlier weeks, the Braves gave up a big play &045; the ensuing kickoff was returned to the Alcorn 38 &045; and a win, losing 23-20.

Head coach Johnny Thomas said Saturday’s loss, which dropped the Braves (2-5) to 1-2 in the conference, was hard to swallow, but his team has returned to the Lorman campus re-energized.

&uot;Our spirits are never down,&uot; said Thomas, who is in his sixth year coaching his alma mater. &uot;I won’t let that happen to us as the head coach. We may be down two games in the loss column in the East Division, but anything can happen.&uot;

What soothes the gaping wounds of Saturday’s defeat perhaps more, is taking a glance at the East standings and noticing the Braves are hardly out of the division title picture.

Each team has suffered disappointment in its conference schedule, with both Alabama State and Jackson State atop at 2-1.

&uot;It’s disappointing the ways we have lost games,&uot; Thomas said. &uot;They’ve been direct results of our own miscues, and not executing down the stretch. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at our attitude (Sunday) when we went through conditioning.&uot;

A frustrating start usually spells doom for the outlook and mental clarity of most teams.

Losing games late, and not being able to put nails in coffins has historically led to finger pointing and in-fighting.

But, Thomas said there is a clear explanation why the air has not turned sour around Jack Spinks Stadium.

&uot;Everything goes through me as far as the behavior of this team,&uot; he said. &uot;If they have a problem with the direction of the program, or the offense or defense, I tell them to come see me. This ball club is very mature. The players want to win.&uot;

And what better place to start than in Baton Rouge this Saturday against the Sheridan Broadcasting Network’s No. 1 black college football team.

The Southern Jaguars (7-0, 4-0 SWAC), which is also ranked 14th in Division I-AA, have allowed less than 50 points to be scored on them during conference play while averaging more than 50 per game.

&uot;We’ve got a tough ball game against Southern this week,&uot; Thomas said. &uot;We were hoping to be in a better situation record wise, but we’re still fighting.&uot;

However, Thomas hopes he can incite more tenacity from his troops for a full 60 minutes. The Braves have been notorious for not playing for four quarters this season.

Exhibit A came late in the loss to Texas Southern. On the Tigers’ game-winning drive, Alcorn’s defense had held the fort and forced Texas Southern to have to go for a first on fourth and long yardage.

The Tigers picked up the first when quarterback Gered Lunnon scampered for eight yards to move the chains. Several plays later Timothy Boutte plunged in from a yard out with 4:10 left.

&uot;That killed us,&uot; Thomas said. &uot;We didn’t stop them when we had to. Although we have some new starters … we have veteran guys that have been here through an 0-11 season and then two 6-5 years. We should have that killer instinct, and know how to put our opponent’s away when we’re ahead.&uot;

A positive that did come out of the heartbreaker was the continued play of running back Andrew Burks, who carried the rock 19 times for 108 yards.

As Alcorn tried to comeback with less than four minutes to play, Burks kick-started the drive with a 34-yard run to put the senior over 1,000 yards for his career.

&uot;Andrew has been our most consistent back this season,&uot; Thomas said. &uot;He’s steady in terms of what we need him to do to run the football. He’s very dependable and durable.&uot;