It’s not easy to repeat as champions. Alcorn State was in for a huge challenge last weekend, facing Grambling State for the SWAC championship. GSU was 9-2 overall and 9-0 in the conference. The Tigers had won their first Western title since 2011. They also had quarterback Johnathan Williams, the SWAC Offensive Player of the Year, who had a sensational season.
The Braves were able to accomplish the task of defeating the Tigers, 49-21, behind a fierce rushing attack Saturday in Houston. Running back Darryan Ragsdale rushed for 188 yards for Alcorn State. The win gave Alcorn State (9-3) back-to-back SWAC titles. It was the first repeat league championship since Grambling State did it from 2000 to 2002.
Ragsdale opened the game with an 84-yard touchdown run. He averaged 12.5 yards a carry on 15 attempts. He shattered the SWAC championship game record for most rushing yards and had the longest run in the conference championship game history.
Ragsdale wasn’t the only big-time performer. Braves wide receiver Marquis Warford caught two touchdown passes and gained 120 yards on the ground. Alcorn State quarterback Lenorris Footman joined the scoring parade, completing 15 of 24 passes for 202 yards and 3 touchdowns. He added 19 carries for 101 yards and a touchdown. Offensively, Alcorn State set new conference title game marks in total yards (613), rushing yards (411) and points scored (49).
It wasn’t just the scoring that set the tone. On defense, Alcorn State had to shut down a Grambling State team that was capable of lighting up the scoreboard. The Braves kept Williams in check – he was 19-of-38 for 225 yards with just 1 TD, with 3 interceptions. And Alcorn State cornerback Warren Gatewood showed off his cover skills in picking off those three passes. The feat tied the championship game record for most interceptions.
The Tigers’ stellar play on both sides of the ball brought them the championship crown. The win secured Alcorn State a berth as the SWAC representative in the inaugural Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl at noon ET Dec. 19 on ABC from the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. The Tigers will face the MEAC’s North Carolina A&T Aggies (9-2) in the bowl that will determine an HBCU champion.
Titanic bowl matchup: In its inaugural year, the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl is also the game that will kick off the college football bowl season. The Dec. 19 game puts HBCU football in the national spotlight.
North Carolina A&T won the role of MEAC representative after a tiebreaker that resulted from a three-way tie for first place with Bethune-Cookman and North Carolina Central. All three teams earned a share of the regular-season MEAC championship.
Aggies head coach Rod Broadway will bring two standout offensive players with him to Atlanta. North Carolina A&T running back Tarik Cohen was selected the MEAC Offensive Player of the Year. At 5-foot-6 and 173 pounds, Cohen is a tremendous player. For the third consecutive year, he led the conference in rushing and in surpassing 1,000 yards. He is North Carolina A&T’s all-time leading rusher with 3,735 yards.
Cohen runs behind Brandon Parker, a tremendous blocker who was named the MEAC Offensive Lineman of the Year. Parker, a 6-7, 279-pound offensive tackle, has the ability to open some big running lanes.
Cornerback Tony McRae is a two-time first-team All-MEAC standout. He has three interceptions and 49 total tackles, 36 solo. Defensive lineman Marquis Ragland can rush the passer and play the run. Ragland has 46 tackles, 26 solo, and 2.5 sacks.
Alcorn State is led by quarterback Lenorris Footman, who has thrown for 962 yards, including 12 touchdowns, and just three interceptions. His main target is wide receiver Marquis Warford, who has caught 35 passes for 476 yards and 4 TDs. Warford was named the SWAC Newcomer of the Year. And running back Darryan Ragsdale gives the Braves an explosive rushing attack. He has gained 1,144 yards and scored 8 TDs.
Alcorn State’s defense has been shutting down teams all season. To go with his three interceptions in the SWAC title game, Warren Gatewood is a solid open-field tackler. He has 39 total tackles.
SBN Sports Network Black College Football Poll
1. North Carolina A&T
2. Alcorn State
3. Prairie View A&M
4. Grambling State
6. North Carolina Central
7. South Carolina State
9. Bowie State