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Alcorn State concludes spring with competitive game

Alcorn State University’s Jonathan Hauer catches a deflected pass and runs it in for a touchdown during the school’s spring game Saturday. (Sam Gause / The Natchez Democrat)

Alcorn State University’s Jonathan Hauer catches a deflected pass and runs it in for a touchdown during the school’s spring game Saturday. (Sam Gause / The Natchez Democrat)

Lorman — The Alcorn State Braves enter the 2015-16 football season with a target on their back.

The reigning Southwestern Athletic Conference champions wrapped up their beginning defenses of that title with their annual spring football game Saturday.

Players were separated into two teams, gold and purple, and knocked heads for four quarters in front of coaches and fans.

The gold team took home a 28-21 victory, but it wasn’t without a fight from the purple side.

After gold built a 21-0 lead, purple stormed back but fell just short.

Not only is spring an ideal time for coaches to continue to work their veterans, it also offers a chance for younger talent to step up, and Alcorn head coach Jay Hopson noticed it Saturday.

“That is what you like about the spring,” he said. “You can develop young players and they get a chance to come out and show what they can do.”

Two younger players, who made serious impacts in the game were gold quarterback Lennoris Footman and purple running back Arron Baker.

“Arron ran the ball hard as always,” Hopson said. “Lenorris had some big plays and big throws. He is an exceptional football player. He’s got a really good arm and did a good job not only throwing, but also running the ball.”

Baker recorded a game-high 104 rushing yards on seven carries, which included a 60-yard touchdown run.

Footman led the gold team completing six of his 12 passes for 139 yards and two touchdowns. Footman also threw an interception.

While last year’s starting quarterback John Gibbs struggled out of the gates, the senior was able to turn things around and make the game competitive.

Gibbs finished 11-of-22 for 114 yards and a touchdown. He also tossed an interception.

Gibbs was solid using his feet, rushing for 35 yards.

“It became a competitive game in the second half,” Hopson said. “The gold team got up on them early and had some field position advantages, and they took advantage of it, but I thought it was a competitive spring game and that is what we are looking for.”

With a wet field and poor playing conditions, both teams relied on the run, and players showed that in the upcoming season, the backfield is going to be crowded.

Along with Baker, De’Lance Turner, Joe Price and Darryan Ragsdale all had quality days carrying the football.

Turner, who finished with 57 yards and a touchdown, could have had even more if he wasn’t called for an excessive celebration penalty nullifying a touchdown.

Price, who recorded a rushing touchdown, was a key component catching the ball out of the backfield. He finished with seven catches for 34 yards.

And Ragsdale ran between the tackles all afternoon, earning a tough 26 yards and a touchdown.

At receiver, Tip McKenzie led the way with two catches for 53 yards and Jordan Payne added two catches for 34 yards.

Ultimately, Hopson said he wanted to see his team compete, and he got it.

“Spring is a time when you really win jobs and assert yourself as a starter or a backup,” he said. “That is what we are looking at and trying to build depth. We saw some things today and hopefully these young guys will continue to grow.”

Alcorn opens the 2015 season on the road against Atlantic Coast Conference power Georgia Tech.