A topsy-turvy game of who has the momentum ended up on the Alcorn State sideline as the Braves scored the last 10 points including the game-winning field goal in overtime to defeat Alabama State 23-20 in Montgomery.
The Braves and the Hornets entered the game in desperate need of a win. Alcorn State lost on a last-second field goal to division-mate Prairie View a week earlier. Alabama State dropped its last two games including one to division-mate Florida A&M.
To say there was some urgency on both sidelines is an understatement. Dropping the game to the Rattlers is likely to have more of an impact on who will represent the East Division in the SWAC Championship than Alcorn’s loss to the Panthers. The parity among the teams in the West typically results in at least one divisional loss.
With Grambling State visiting the reservation for the Braves homecoming next week, Alcorn State needed to remember how to close teams out. Scoring wasn’t the issue. The Braves scored first in their previous two games and continued that trend with a 39-yard field goal by Noah Kiani to end the first quarter.
Kiani’s field goal was made possible by Terreance Ellis’ recovery of Kisean Johnson’s fumble near midfield. It was the Hornets’ second fumble of the game. Hornets tight end Jaelyn Lay fumbled away a scoring opportunity at the one-yard line after catching a pass and first down inside the 5-yard line. Jaderrion Kelly recovered the ball in the end zone for the Braves.
Special Teams, Special Plays
Alabama State forced its share of turnovers but only capitalized on one of them. The Hornets slammed the door shut on a Braves potential scoring drive at the 21-yard line to force a 39-yard field goal attempt. A field goal would have extended the Braves’ lead to a touchdown with less than 10 minutes remaining in the game. Hornets cornerback Tre Phillips gave his team the big play it needed. Phillips came off the corner and blocked the field goal attempt that bounced into the hands of speedy James Burgess. The junior defensive back scooped the ball and raced 75 yards to the end zone to give the Hornets a three-point lead.
Burgess gave the Hornets the go-ahead touchdown and the opportunity to close out the game with a diving interception of a pass by Allen intended for Malik Rodgers at the Braves 36.
The Hornets’ offense couldn’t shake the fumble bug. On the first play from scrimmage, Dematrius Davis fumbled the ball. His miscue landed out of bounds allowing the offense to keep the drive alive. State kept the ball on the ground where they had the most success. Marcus Harris II, Howell, Davis, Jaylen Sulton, Kisean Johnson, and Damon Stewart combined to rush for 257 yards on 50 carries.
State’s ground game ate up over 3 minutes off the clock before Stewart went to the air. Platooning Stewart and Davis didn’t improve the vertical game. The pair combined to complete 12 passes for 96 yards. Stewart’s final pass in regulation time landed in the hands of an unlikely receiver -Dylan Creech. Creech is listed on the roster as a linebacker but splits time as a fullback/H-back. The 240-pound junior turned upfield rambling for 34 yards before being taken down out of bounds at the Braves 12 by Andrew Smith.
Fumble Bug Returns
All of Smith’s hard work went for naught one play later as Ja’Won Howell fumbled away another scoring opportunity. Braves defensive end Tyler Smith punched the ball from Howell’s arms at the 5 while the running back was fighting for yards.
Smith’s fumble led to a Braves 13-play, 89-yard drive that resulted in the game-tying field goal. Alabama State’s defense had a chance to close out the game by forcing the Braves to fourth-and-two near midfield. It was not to be as Aaron Allen’s pass to Tavarious Griffin gave the Braves the two yards it needed and extended the drive.
Allen finished the game with 32 completions for 370 yards but he saved his best for last. The junior transfer from Louisiana Tech completed a 41-yard pass to Rodgers on third-and-10 to set up Kiani’s 24-yard field goal that sent the game into overtime.
Alabama State won the coin toss and opted to give Alcorn State first crack on offense in overtime. The momentum that led to the game-tying field goal never left the Braves sideline. Allen’s 17-yard pass to Rodgers moved the ball deep enough for Kiani to split the uprights from 30 yards out.
The Hornets attempted to match the Braves field goal after Devin Dawson sacked Davis for a 9-yard loss. The loss in yards moved the field goal from a 28-yard attempt to a 37-yard attempt. The additional yardage may have had more of a mental effect on Jaydon John than anything. John’s attempt looked more like a major league curve ball missing wide left of the upright and with it the Hornet’s hopes for a win.
Game Photos (177 images)
All photos by Jason McDonald, JM Photography for CORE360 Sports