North Carolina Central head coach Trei Oliver made sure to remind Lee Corso of his errant pre-game choice after the ESPN Game Day personality chose Alcorn State to win the 2021 MEAC-SWAC Challenge during the morning broadcast. Oliver’s Eagles handed the SWAC West pre-season top pick a 23-14 defeat Saturday night at Center Parc Stadium in Atlanta, GA.
The last time the Eagles played in Atlanta they lost the biggest game of the year after a controversial unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the end zone resulted in a much longer point-after attempt. The kick was blocked preventing the Eagles from tying Grambling State. Five years later, the Eagles returned as a significant underdog. The Eagles were predicted to finish third in the contracted six-team conference.
After a morning of pre-game hoopla that included the Game Day broadcast and a live concert by the Migos, the reason for the near week-long festivities took center stage.
Alcorn State, behind red-shirt senior and local prep product Felix Harper (Creekside HS, Fairburn GA), took control of the game on the opening drive. Harper completed five passes for 73 yards, three of them to junior wide-out Juan Anthony. Anthony shook off two tackles before sprinting into the end zone for the first touchdown of the new college football season.
NC Central’s first offensive series of the season petered out deep in Braves territory. A quick kick by sophomore quarterback Davius Richard pinned Alcorn State inside the five. Braves head coach Fred McNair turned to his bruising senior running back Stadford Anderson to give the offense some breathing room. Anderson gave them more than that ripping through the Eagles’ defense for a 68-yard gain. Seven plays and two penalties later the Braves’ offense returned to the sideline with nothing to show for their efforts. A missed field goal attempt from 32 yards out was a harbinger of things to come.
“We had a lot of missed opportunities, and we had a lot of penalties,” said Harper. Alcorn was penalized 5 times for 55 yards during the game. It wasn’t so much the number of penalties, NC Central had 14 for 108 yards, but rather the type and timing of them.
The Eagles’ defense had a lot to do with some of those penalties. Red-shirt sophomore rover Manny Smith led a defensive charge that sacked Harper three times and forced two turnovers. One of the pressures forced Harper to throw the ball away. The play resulted in a penalty for grounding.
With the drive stalled, Alcorn was forced to punt. Brandon Codrington returned the punt 77 yards for a touchdown that hammered the proverbial nail in the Braves’ coffin.
Eagles quarterback Davius Richard was named MVP for his role. Richard scored two touchdowns with his legs and threw for 184 yards on 16 completions. Richard pointed to his team’s resilience after falling behind early. “We never doubted, we didn’t look at the scoreboard, we just kept playing until we saw the zeroes on the scoreboard, said the Belle Glade, Florida native.
The MEAC increases their lead in the series 11-5.
The biggest mistake the Eagles made on the day was missing Trei Oliver with the Gatorade bath at the end of the game. Oliver ducked out of the way just as the icy cold liquid poured from the container. Well played coach well played indeed.
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All photos credit Jason McDonald, JM Photography for CORE360 Sports