BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – The teams are set and the rematch ready as Alcorn State University and Southern University prepare to meet in the 2014 Toyota Southwestern Athletic Conference football championship game in Houston, Texas on today.
It is the 16th year of the SWAC championship and second year it will take place in NRG Stadium.
The game will be broadcast live on ESPNU beginning at 3 p.m. CST.
Alcorn State has won six of the last 10 matchups between the two teams, including a 56-16 rout of Southern earlier this year at home.
Prior to this season, the games have been incredibly close with Alcorn winning four of the last five by less than a touchdown.
Southern’s last win over the Braves was at home in 2011 when they took it 30-14.
Alcorn State (9-3, 7-2 SWAC)
This year marks the first time eastern division champion Alcorn State has appeared in the title game since the divisional era began in 1999.
It has been 20 years since the Braves split the SWAC title with Grambling and 22 since they earned it outright. Alcorn defeated Alabama A&M (Nov. 8) to secure its berth.
They have been ranked as high as No. 24 in the NCAA FCS Coaches Top 25 poll and are currently still receiving votes.
Alcorn has been led by veteran John Gibbs, Jr. The 6-6, 220 quarterback is top 10 in the league for passing average per game and passing efficiency. He has over 2,200 yards and 18 touchdowns, averaging 186.4 yards per game.
Gibbs also leads the team in rushing with 874 yards and 11 touchdowns.
His primary targets this season have been Jordan Payne and Charles Hughes. Both have averaged over 30 yards per game.
Payne has a team-high 450 receiving yards and four touchdowns on 24 catches.
The Braves ground game has been spread between three backs. Anthony Williams, Darryan Ragsdale, and Arron Baker each have over 660 rushing yards this season.
Both Williams and Baker have appeared in all 12 games. Ragsdale averaged over 80 yards per game before being sidelined by injury.
Devon Francois and Damon Watkins lead the team in tackles.
Francois has a team-high 79 tackles, 53 solo, while Watkins earned 73 of his own, 40 solo. The duo also combine for 11 tackles for a loss of 25 yards, two sacks, seven interceptions with returns of 138 yards, 15 pass breakups, four quarterback hurries, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery.
Southern University (9-3, 8-1 SWAC)
Southern is making its fifth championship game appearance in program history.
The Jaguars have taken three out of the four title games they’ve appeared in, winning the inaugural championship in 1999, then the 2003 title and the championship last year. As a program, Southern has earned 19 SWAC Championships since 1937.
They defeated Grambling State in the 41st Annual Bayou Classic (Nov. 29) to win the western division title and this year’s berth.
The Jaguars, who are riding a seven game win streak, have been led by true freshman quarterback Austin Howard. He has over 2,100 passing yards and 17 touchdowns in his inaugural season, averaging 181.8 passing yards per game.
And while their passing game has been effective, it is their balanced offense with the run game from Lenard Tillery that has led to their success.
Tillery is the first Jaguar to log a 1,000 yard rushing season in over four years. He finished the regular season with over 1,100 yards and nine touchdowns.
Another Jaguar to watch will be Willie Quinn. The wide-out leads the team in both receiving yards (833) and punt return yards (203). He has earned Southern’s lone punt return touchdown and has been Howard’s primary target, catching a team-high 56 passes.
Redshirt junior Demetrius Carter has led the defense this season. The linebacker leads the team with 94 total tackles, 48 solo, three pass breakups and two quarterback hurries. Brian McCain has been the most effective at breaking into the backfield. He has a team-high 10.5 tackles for a loss, including 6.5 sacks for a loss of 39 yards. The former fullback also has a pass breakup, a forced fumble, and five quarterback hurries.