Alcorn State’s mid-October loss to Grambling State, 35-34 in overtime, was a heartbreaker. But the Braves knew another chance at the Tigers was possible. Alcorn State got that chance in the Southwestern Athletic Conference Championship Game on Saturday at NRG Stadium.
This time the Braves reaped sweet revenge, beating Grambling State 49-21, to claim its second consecutive SWAC title.
“These are great moments when you’re able to win championships,” Alcorn State coach Jay Hopson said. “I’m just proud and blessed to be a part of this journey and to be around these young men. It’s truly been the greatest blessing of my life. Just humbled and appreciate everyone that’s associated with our program. Great win today.”
The Braves (9-3) become the first team since 2002 to repeat as SWAC champs, joining Grambling State as the only program to accomplish the feat. It’s Alcorn State’s 11th title. Alcorn State leaned on its rushing attack as Darryan Ragsdale rushed for a championship game record 191 yards on 16 carries.
“We have a good team,” Ragsdale said. “I knew coming into this game we were all on the same page and we knew everyone had one mindset. We just accomplished that.”
The Braves finished with 410 yards rushing as Ragsdale, Lenorris Footman and Marquis Warford all finished with more than 100 rushing yards. Footman finished with 19 carries for 123 yards and a score, while Warford had eight carries for 123 yards and a score.
Overall Alcorn State racked up 613 yards of offense, breaking the previous record, 583 yards, set by Grambling State in 2005.
The loss marked just the second time Grambling State (9-3) has fallen in the title game. Tigers quarterback Johnathan Williams kept Grambling State within striking distance, completing 18-for-36 for 207 yards and a touchdown, but also threw three interceptions. He also rushed for 51 yards on 15 carries. Chad Williams led Grambling State in receiving with five grabs for 64 yards.
Defensively, Alcorn State’s Warren Gatewood excelled with three interceptions, returning one for a 24-yard touchdown.
“In reference to the picks I just was a play on the ball and I was blessed enough to make them,” Gatewood said. “I have to give it to my whole defense, to the defensive line to the linebackers.”
After a slow start the Braves scored 14 points in a span of 2:28 on an 84-yard run by Ragsdale to set a championship game record for the longest run from scrimmage, and a pick-six by Gatewood.
Grambling stayed close with touchdowns on its next two possessions, Williams scored from 14 yards out, then hit Verlan Hunter for a 24-yard score to make it 21-14 with 9:14 left in the first half.
Alcorn State’s defense clamped down the rest of the way. Grambling State managed just one score, but it came with 7:53 left in the game.
“It’s no secret what happened tonight,” Grambling State coach Broderick Fobbs said. “Alcorn State did a really good job, they had a good plan. Jay Hopson — my hats off to him, his staff and players.
Definitely worthy of repeating. I thought they did a tremendous job of taking advantage of some mistakes we made.”
Alcorn State will represent the SWAC in the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl on Dec. 19, taking on North Carolina A&T out of the Mid-Eastern Atlantic Conference.