Braves claim SWAC championship

Published 12:07 am Sunday, December 2, 2018

LORMAN — Alcorn State is back as the SWAC’s A-lister.

De’Shawn Waller ran 16 times for 177 yards and three touchdowns, and Alcorn beat Southern 37-28 in the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship game on Saturday night.

The Braves won their third SWAC title in five years and advanced to the Celebration Bowl in Atlanta on Dec. 15. They’ll face Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champion North Carolina A&T for the HBCU national championship.

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“I can’t say enough about this whole group we have here at Alcorn and the way we played this game. We finally put together a 60-minute ball game. We’ve been expecting this the whole year and it’s been a long time coming. They went out there and executed. At times, we got set behind the chains but we did a great job of fighting through adversity,” Alcorn head coach Fred McNair said. “I just can’t say enough about this coaching staff and this ball club. This is the way this senior class wanted to go out. They got a chance to make history on their own grass.”

Alcorn (9-3) was playing in its fifth consecutive SWAC championship game — a league record — and won for the first time since 2015.

This was the first time the in its 20-year history that the championship game was played at a campus site, and the Braves and Jaguars put on a show for the sellout crowd of 22,500. The teams traded the lead three times. Quarterback Ladarius Skelton scored on runs of 1 and 3 yards in the third quarter to send Southern (7-4) into the fourth with a 28-27 lead.

The final quarter, however, belonged to Alcorn.

Corey McCullough kicked a 41-yard field goal with 11:31 remaining to put the Braves back in front. Then, after stopping the Jaguars on downs at the 32-yard line, Alcorn drove to the end zone in nine plays for the clinching score.

Waller’s 14-yard TD run up the middle of the defense made it 37-28 with 3:47 to play.

Southern got the ball back after Waller’s run, but Skelton was sacked twice and the Jaguars conceded defeat by punting on fourth-and-18 from their own 27 with 2:07 remaining. Alcorn totaled 518 yards and outgained Southern 370-123 on the ground.

Waller scored on runs of 13 and 83 yards in the first half, the latter of which was the second-longest in SWAC championship game history.

Noah Johnson passed for 135 yards and ran for 147 yards and two scores — one of them a dazzling 44-yarder that gave Alcorn a 21-14 lead with 43 seconds left in the first half.

Johnson had his helmet ripped off as he was tackled at the goal line and twisted into the end zone. He got up screaming, helmetless, in celebration.

“When you get a chance to win a championship at home, there are always going to be emotions,” said Johnson, who was the game’s Offensive MVP. “Coach told us all week to control your emotions. When I got in that end zone all those emotions just came out.”

The Defensive MVP was Alcorn linebacker Brelion Hollis. He led the Braves with seven tackles and one-half sack. Alcorn sacked Skelton six times and junior defensive lineman Terry Whittington had 1 1/2 sacks.

Skelton finished with 65 rushing yards and three touchdowns for Southern. He also was 12-of-22 passing for 194 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. Trey Smith caught seven passes for 120 yards and a touchdown.

“The coaches stressed all week about the little stuff. We just had to come out in the second half and hold our own because the first half was a little rocky,” Hollis said. “I want to give all thanks to the coaching staff for putting us in the position to win this ball game.”