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Grambling vs. Alcorn State, again, for SWAC title

LUT WILLIAMS
BCSP Editor

Head coaches Broderick Fobbs of West Division champion Grambling State and Fred McNair of East Division champ Alcorn State don’t need a lot to motivate their teams as they square off Saturday in the 18th SWAC Championship Game in Houston. Based on their long and glorious gridiron histories, Grambling and Alcorn State are two of the most accomplished football programs in all of black college football and are among the fiercest of rivals.

In case they’re searching for an edge however, either can focus on the two ‘R’s’ – Rematch and Revenge. Based on what’s happened when the two teams have met recently, both those sources of inspiration could be in play Saturday. The most recent match up was on Sept. 24 of this season in Grambling where Fobbs’ GMen ran up 534 total yards and rode 400 passing yards and five TD passes from junior transfer quarterback Devante Kincade to a dominating 43-18 win over Alcorn State. But if we go back to last year’s title game, Grambling is the one looking to a rematch and for some revenge.

It was at last year’s championship tilt that the Braves, then coached by Jay Hopson who has moved on to Southern Mississippi, put a 49-21 beating on the Tigers piling up 411 rushing yards with three Alcorn rushers – Darryan Ragsdale, Marquis Watford and Lenorris Footman – topping the 100-yard mark and scoring a touchdown. Footman also threw three touchdown passes. It was the second straight championship game win for Hopson and the Braves.

To add a little more spice to the championship mix, in addition to the SWAC title they’re playing for, the winner will also represent the SWAC in the 2nd Annual Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome on Dec. 17 against MEAC champion North Carolina Central. Alcorn State lost in a shootout to MEAC champion North Carolina A&T in last year’s inaugural game 41-34.

Fobbs and the G-Men Grambling (9-1, 9-0 SWAC), ranked first in the Black College Sports Page Top Ten for the last two weeks, has been the standard bearer in the conference this season. The G-Men have beaten every team in the league by double-digits and by an average score of 46-14. The closest score was a 19-point 47-28 win over Texas Southern three weeks ago. They are averaging league bests of 507 yards and 44.0 points per game. Kincade, a transfer from Ole Miss, has been the catalyst. The junior has thrown for 2,633 yards completing 63.2% of his passes for 28 touchdowns and just three interceptions. He’s likely a shoo-in for the conference’s offensive player of the year award.

He’s been ably complemented by running backs Jestin Kelly and Martez Carter and wideouts Chad Williams and Verlan Hunter. Kelly has run for 781 yards and 8 TDs while Carter has 646 rushing yards with 8 scores. They are third and fourth in SWAC rushing stats. Williams has led the SWAC and all black college receivers this season with 80 catches for 1,191 yards and 10 TD receptions. Hunter has 45 receptions for six scores. Grambling is also on top of just about every SWAC defensive category including scoring (16.4 ppg.), total (323.6 ypg.) and rushing defense (120.9 ypg.). The Tigers are second in pass defense (202.7 ypg.). Linebacker Arkez Cooper and defensive back Guy Stallworth, both fifth-year seniors, lead the defense with 58 stops.

The Tigers have won nine straight games since opening the season with a 31-21 loss at Arizona. The Tigers led that game 21-3 at the half before Kincade went down with an injury. The G-Men have also won 18 straight SWAC regular season games. The loss to Alcorn State in the title game last year is the only loss to a conference foe over the last two seasons. McNair and the Braves. After dominating the league the last two years and winning back-to-back titles, the 5-5 Braves have struggled with injuries in McNair’s first year.

McNair said as many as 11 starters have gone down this season. Many came back just as the regular season was coming to an end. That means the Braves are likely to be more of a challenge to the Tigers than in their meeting earlier this season. Footman, a junior, and redshirt freshman Noah Johnson have taken turns under center leading the Braves and both are capable of putting up big numbers.

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In his best game this season, Footman put up 451 yards of total offense, running for 147 yards and three scores and passing for 304 yards and two TDs in a 41-33 home loss to Southern. The next week in a 31-27 loss to Prairie View, Johnson ran for 123 yards and three scores. Three weeks ago he passed for a league-high seven TDs in a 61-7 rout of Mississippi Valley State. Johnson started and played the entire game in the Braves season-ending win vs. Jackson State last week and will likely see the field first vs. Grambling.

Junior running back DeLance Turner leads the Braves’ ground attack with 618 yards and 4 TDs. Johnson has rushed for 440 yards and 10 scores. Alcorn averages 217.8 rushing yards per game, second in the SWAC. Jaborian McKenzie (39 rec., 420 yards, 2 TDs) and Norlando Veals (27 receptions, 531 yards, 7 TDs) are the chief receiving threats. Senior linebacker Darien Anderson leads the Alcorn defense. He is fourth in the league in tackles with 80 and is first with 12 sacks.

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