Alcorn State set to face rival Tigers

Published 12:24 am Friday, November 21, 2008

LORMAN — Alcorn State’s season might not have been what the Braves had hoped it would be.

With a 2-9 overall record and a 1-5 record in Southwestern Athletic Conference play, the Braves have had some disappointing last-minute losses to go along with some blowouts.

But none of that matters come Saturday, when Alcorn State takes on Jackson State in the annual Capitol City Classic in Jackson.

Email newsletter signup

“It’s the rivalry game,” said Alcorn State coach Ernest Jones. “It’s a statement-making game. Our mantra is, ‘Making a statement.’ You can make a great, great statement with a win this weekend.”

The Tigers, who won the SWAC Championship last season, have already clinched the SWAC East title and a spot in the championship game this season.

But this game is like a whole other conference for Jones, who calls the three teams in the state — Alcorn State, Jackson State and Mississippi Valley State — the “Mississippi SWAC”.

“We beat Mississippi Valley State, and they beat them too, so whoever wins this game will be crowned the champion of the Mississippi SWAC,” Jones said. “It’s a big deal around here.”

It’s a big deal for recruiting and just for bragging rights between the rival schools, and Jones said the Braves understand that.

And even though Alcorn will be designated the home team Saturday in Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium, Jones knows the travel and atmosphere will prove otherwise.

“You can call me the home team, but that’s their stadium,” he said. “They play in it every week. It’s their locker room, their fans. It will be hostile, and it will be rowdy.”

The Tigers are coming off a division-clinching 37-21 win against Alabama A&M, while the Braves are still recovering from a crushing 34-point defeat at Prairie View A&M last week.

The Braves defense allowed 556 offensive yards, while the offense was held to just 285 yards.

Jones said after seeing weeks of improvement where his team has put itself in good positions to win, the Braves just fell apart last weekend.

“When mistakes happen, we don’t respond in the right way,” he said. “Sometimes I think it’s a lack of confidence in themselves and their abilities. They’re afraid to make plays, to make mistakes.

“I keep telling them, ‘I’m not going to pull you out if you make a mistake — just play!’ But they’re thinking too much.”

Jackson State has won five games in a row since starting 1-4, and running back Darius Bolea was named newcomer of the week for his 11 rushes for 147 yards and a touchdown, the first 100-yard game of his career.

Jones said the Tigers’ dynamic offense, led by quarterback Trae Rutland, will be tough to stop.

“He’s the real deal,” Jones said. “He can run, and he can throw. You say, ‘Well, we’ll force him to run?’ — no, you don’t want to do that. And you can’t say, ‘We’ll make him throw.’ You got to try to catch him off guard.”

But this game, Jones said, will be all about the defense. The Tigers boast one of the bst defensive ends in the country, he said, in Marcus Benard, along with linebacker Marcellus Speaks and Dominique Johnson, a defensive back.

As good as Prairie View A&M’s defense was at holding the Braves, Jones said this one will be even better.

“It will be tough to move an inch, and we’ll have to earn everything we get,” he said. “We’ll have to move guys east and west so we can get in there and run, and if we want to throw the ball, we’ll have to get it out of our hands fast because they have a great pass rush.

“That defense can carry that football team, and it will be the best we’ve faced this year.”

As for the Braves’ defensive play, Reed is expecting a better performance than what he saw this past weekend.

Quarterback Mark Spivey completed 20-of-37 passes for 261 yards and two scores, and the Panthers racked up 295 yards on the ground.

“I’m waiting for my defense to show back up,” Jones said. “Early in the season all about defense, and now the defense the last few weeks has been falling off.

“I’d really like to see it come back one more time for me and give a good showing. They say the Tigers have the best defense in the SWAC? Let’s step up to the challenge. Let’s find out who really has the best defense.”