Braves beat JSU, out of title hunt

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 5, 2003

JACKSON &045; Somewhere, Steve McNair is smiling.

He’s loosening up for today’s game with the Tennessee Titans at Atlanta with a smirk on his face that no one else on the team may know about. But his old school finally got over the hump they’ve been trying to climb since he left Alcorn.

The Braves ended a nine-year drought in their series with Jackson State by posting a 42-17 win Saturday at Veterans Memorial Stadium in the Capital City Classic.

Email newsletter signup

And the effort on Saturday was one that would have made him proud. The Braves’ offense piled up a whopping 625 yards offense with an almost perfect balance of run and pass to pound the punchless Tigers (2-10).

The win, however, wasn’t enough to get into the SWAC Championship. The Braves (7-5, 5-2) were in position to clinch the Eastern Division, but Alabama State took the honors with a 38-25 win over Texas Southern late Saturday night.

The Braves needed a TSU win to advance to Birmingham.

&uot;I feel real good for our fans because it’s been a long time since we beat Jackson State,&uot; said quarterback Donald Carrie, who was named Offensive Player of the Game award for running for three touchdowns and throwing for another three. &uot;We finally came out with a victory after about 10 years. It’s the best feeling in the world.&uot;

The win was the best way the Braves could do a complete 180 on a season that looked about as bleak as the end of the Tigers’ nightmare season. But instead they ended the season on a five-game winning steak &045; the team’s longest in Johnny Thomas’ five years as head coach.

And the afternoon couldn’t have been better for Thomas, who got dunked after the game as his Braves did their part at trying to clinch the Eastern Division title four years removed from a nightmarish 0-11 season that nearly cost him his job.

&uot;I never had a monkey on my back,&uot; Thomas said. &uot;When you have to build a program, there are growing pains you’re going to have. It’s not unique to us. We had to bring in people to get the job done. But to be able to be in a position to represent the Eastern Division after my fifth year is very gratifying not only for me but for all of the players, coaches and administration.&uot;

When it came to getting the job done against Jackson State, the Braves delivered with their biggest game of the season by far. The offense moved the ball effectively both with the run and the pass, and the defense for the most part contained an outstanding quarterback in Robert Kent and got key plays from the special teams and return man Lonnie Teagle.

Alcorn held a 21-10 lead at the half but got three quick scores to blow the game open.

&uot;We came out early and moved the ball well,&uot; JSU head coach James Bell said. &uot;They came out with big plays. We worked on it all week long. We knew what we had to do to win the ball game. We knew we couldn’t give up big plays on defense. That’s the bottom line.&uot;

The Braves went to the ground significantly at the start of the second half, and a big 28-yard run from Charlie Spiller put the offense in good field position at the JSU 33. Two runs for 32 yards from Andrew Burks set up a 1-yard run from Carrie into the end zone at the 12:30 mark for a 28-10 lead.

The offense’s lone blemish &045; a Carrie interception that was returned 18 yards for a touchdown by Jason Lewis to trim the score to 28-17 &045; was purged everyone’s memory almost immediately as the offense got a 50-yard pass from Carrie to Nate Hughes to get to the JSU 1.

Carrie then ran in for his third score with 3:36 left in the third for a 35-17 lead.

&uot;We had a good game plan and wanted to attack where their weakness was,&uot; Carrie said. &uot;We knew they were weak against the run. We had watched film and knew they were going to play us cover two, three or four. Knowing they had seen our plays, they knew we like to go deep.&uot;

On the Tigers’ next drive Kent had a pass picked off by linebacker Dwan Wilson, one of four interceptions the Tigers threw on the day. The interception gave the Braves the ball at their own 42, and Carrie kept it on the first play for a 22-yard run to get to the JSU 36.

Three plays later Carrie hit Corvin Johnson on a 33-yard TD pass with 1:47 left in the third for a 42-17 lead.

The Tigers, with Kent appearing to play less than 100 percent with a nagging turf toe injury, didn’t get into the end zone again on offense until at the start of the fourth quarter when a 4-yard pass to Tim Manning for a touchdown capped an 80-yard drive and cut the lead to 42-25.

&uot;We gave the rah-rah in the locker room,&uot; said Kent, who finished a standout career in disappointing fashion with the loss. &uot;It seemed like we got on the field and it didn’t show. We got on the scoreboard first, but (Alcorn) didn’t give up. They came out and played and played well. You can’t take anything away from them. We didn’t play good, and they played well.&uot;

The Braves stuck with the pass mostly in the first half to move the ball, and a big 21-yard pass from Carrie to LaMarcus Turner got them down to the JSU 3. Burks then ran it in for a score with 5:53 left in the second for a 15-10 Alcorn lead.

The Tigers came up empty on their next drive when Jaime Salazar missed on a 32-yard field goal, and the Braves drove 80 yards on eight plays &045; all but two pass plays &045; and got a huge 49-yard pass from Carrie to Kelvin Clark to get to the JSU 5.

Carrie then hit freshman Tabari Lott on a 5-yard yard touchdown pass with 1:58 left for the 21-10 lead that stood until halftime.