Braves aiming to overcome turnover bug for Alabama AM

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 5, 2003

LORMAN &045; There’s little doubt what coaches at Alcorn are going to resume working on today in preparation for Saturday’s game against Alabama A&M.;

This time, however, they may be a little more cordial in the process.

It was that same turnover problem that hit the Braves Saturday in the worst way, but fortunately for them they were able to overcome it and take a 23-7 win over Mississippi Valley. Five fumbles and two interceptions didn’t have anyone looking in the mood for snacks during Saturday’s games, but at least the Braves got the win.

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It keeps the Braves in the running for the Eastern Division crown and puts a huge amount of emphasis on this week’s game against A&M.;

&uot;This was a huge win for us,&uot; Alcorn head coach Johnny Thomas said. &uot;The (assistant coaches) did a great job, although we realize that we need to continue to get better and this can’t happen to us next week against Alabama A&M.; But we played the kind of football we had to play and won the game.&uot;

It was frustrating for everyone involved Saturday when the Braves tried to move the football but couldn’t hold on to it. It was the one nagging issue holding the team back in the early part of the season, but the floodgates really opened Saturday with the seven turnovers.

It could have been more as an Alcorn fumble on the opening kickoff went out of bounds and two deep snaps to punter Shane Phillips went bad &045; one he had to eat for a 14-yard loss and another he picked up and booted quickly after it basically rolled to him.

&uot;I tell you &045; if you had told me that we were going to fumble ball (like that), because we work each week on fumbles,&uot; Thomas said. &uot;We spend 15-20 minutes each practice on fumble drills. But I’d rather for it to happen (then) than (this) week. It gives us something for us to focus on. Sometimes you have to play the game the way the game unfolds.&uot;

What unfolded during the first half wasn’t pretty, and it erased some of the good memories from the previous two games when the Braves had just one turnover and executed near flawlessly on offense in taking wins over Southern and Southeastern Louisiana.

Quarterback Donald Carrie threw two interceptions to add to his league-high 15 interceptions this year, although his 153 completions are fourth-best and 2,275 yards passing and 18 touchdowns are third-best.

The interceptions weren’t at crucial times on Saturday, however. The Braves’ first drive of the game ended at their own 45 on a pick, and a Hail Mary attempt as the clock ran out on the first half was picked off by Valley’s Alan Washington.

So Carrie and the Braves got it together in the second half and broke the game open.

&uot;I let them know everything was going to be all right, and we just stayed focused and kept a positive attitude,&uot; Carrie said. &uot;If not, there’s no reason to play the game. We know we still have a chance (at the championship), but we come out every week and focus on one game at a time. We just want to believe in what we’re doing.&uot;

What may have thrown the Braves off a little bit offensively was the presence of Valley assistant coach Clyde Jefferson Jr., a former Alcorn offensive line coach from 1999 until 2001 under Thomas. Jefferson left to become defensive line coach under Valley head coach Willie Totten. Seeing Jefferson on the opposing sideline was troubling enough for Thomas, who was already worried about Valley being more hyped up for this game than perhaps any other.

&uot;I was afraid of this game,&uot; Thomas said. &uot;When people know what you like to do and don’t like to do in certain situations, that makes it awfully difficult to try and prepare for. You don’t want to change a whole lot of things to throw them off balance because you don’t want to confuse the players. But we were able to overcome all the adversity. My assistant coaches did an outstanding job.&uot;

With the emphasis on limiting turnovers this week, the Braves start to prepare for Alabama A&M in the school’s biggest game this late in the season in quite a while. The Braves are on a three-game winning streak, something they haven’t done this late in the season since 1988.

The Bulldogs (4-2, 7-3) need a win to clinch the Eastern crown Saturday for a second straight season. The Braves (3-2, 5-5) must win and win their last game against Jackson State.

&uot;This is the hardest we’re playing,&uot; Carrie said. &uot;After all those things going on (earlier), we’ve worked every day and know what we have to do. We want to keep on going.&uot;

Said Thomas: &uot;Alabama A&M is the defending champion, and you’ve got to knock the champion out.&uot;