BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – A hard-fought battle that could have gone either way just didn’t end in favor of the Alcorn State University football program as FIU ended on top 17-10 at Legion Field in a neutral site contest Friday evening.
The Braves (1-1) trailed 10-7 late in the fourth quarter when sophomore kicker Corey McCullough drilled a 49-yard field goal to tie the game 10-10 with 3:54 remaining. It marked the second-longest field goal in school history behind a 50-yarder by George Green Jr. in 1984 against Alabama State.
FIU (1-1) responded with a seven-play, 80-yard drive for the decisive 17-10 score. The big play was a 40-yard pass from Alex McGough to Julian Williams. The Panthers scored on a one-yard quarterback sneak by McGough with 1:12 remaining.
Alcorn had one last chance as senior quarterback Lenorris Footman connected with sophomore Tavares Johnson at the FIU 45-yard line with 12 seconds left, but the Braves could not get any closer. Alcorn attempted a last-second Hail Mary that fell incomplete along the right sideline of the end zone.
Footman passed for 191 yards and a touchdown and also rushed for a team-high 56 yards. Senior De’Lance Turner, the reigning SWAC Offensive Player of the Week winner, tallied 34 rushing yards on nine carries.
The receiving game featured Johnson hauling in 44 yards and a touchdown. Junior wide receiver, the SWAC Special Teams Player of the Week, notched 89 kick return yards and 42 receiving yards.
Defensively, junior Brady Smith submitted a career-high 14 tackles. Sophomore Solomon Muhammad posted eight tackles and a pair of sacks.
Both teams posted long drives on their opening series’ of the game. The Panthers started with the ball and moved the chains three times to get into Alcorn territory, but were limited to a 43-yard field goal attempt which sailed wide left.
Alcorn’s only drive of the quarter featured a trio of first downs including a pair of scrambles by Footman. However, the Braves were stopped on a 4th and 7 attempt at the FIU 28-yard line and the Panthers took over on downs.
FIU got on the board early in the second quarter on a three-yard rush by Alex Gardner to lead 7-0. The big play of the drive was a 28-yard reception by Williams on a 3rd and 14 which moved the ball to the Alcorn 17.
The Panthers were threatening again on their next drive, but the Braves were able to force a turnover to thwart it. A fumble popped loose after a 32-yard pass by FIU to the Alcorn two-yard line, but junior Deago Sama was able to rip it out and junior Trae Ferrell picked it up in the end zone. The play was originally ruled a catch and the runner was down, but after review, it was determined that the ball came out before the receiver’s knee was down with a clear recovery by the Braves.
The Braves cashed in with a 10-play, 80-yard touchdown drive, capped by a four-yard pass from Footman to Johnson. The series got started with a huge catch down the middle by senior Norlando Veals which went for 47 yards to the FIU 30-yard line. Footman connected with Warford for 16 yards and with Johnson which brought the ball inside the five-yard line. The scoring play saw Footman scramble to the right and find Johnson at the side of the end zone as he kept a foot inbounds to level the score 7-7 with 3:04 left in the half.
FIU looked to score at the end of the half and moved the ball to the Alcorn 34-yard line, but was forced to punt after a sack by Muhammad on a 3rd-and-9. The teams went into the intermission tied 7-7.
After both teams were getting stops defensively to start the second half, the Panthers put together a long drive which included a trio of third-down conversions. FIU had first-and-goal from the five-yard line, but the Alcorn defense was able to make a stand and hold the Panthers to a 23-yard field goal. FIU carried a 10-7 edge into the fourth quarter.
The Braves took over at their own 38 with 6:21 left. Turner broke loose for a 19-yard gain, and Alcorn moved the ball all the way to the FIU 30-yard line. After the drive stalled out, McCullough drilled a 49-yard field goal to even the game 10-10 with 3:49 remaining.
Alcorn will return home next weekend to host McNeese State on Saturday, Sept. 15 at 6 p.m. at Jack Spinks-Marino Casem Stadium. Alcorn is 1-0 at home this season after defeating Miles College 50-21 on opening day.
– The 17 points scored by FIU was the fewest Alcorn has allowed against an FBS opponent since 1988 when the Braves beat Middle Tennessee 28-7.
– Smith’s 14 tackles were a huge step up from his previous career-high of three set last weekend against Miles College.
– Muhammad’s 4.0 tackles for a loss and 2.0 sacks both marked career-highs.
– Footman moved up to No. 9 all-time in career rushing yards and No. 12 in passing in school history. His 1,670 rushing yards surpassed Clifton Davis’ (1969-72) 1,622 yards and Otis Wonsley’s (1976-79) 1,639 yards. Footman’s 2,825 passing yards surpassed Brandon Bridge’s (2010-11) 2,718 yards.
– Alcorn’s captains were sophomore Terry Whittington, junior Matthew Stewart and Veals. The Braves won the toss and deferred to the second half.
– The game was originally scheduled to be played Saturday in Miami, but was relocated due to Hurricane Irma.
– Friday marked the first-ever meeting between Alcorn and FIU.
Quoting Alcorn head coach Fred McNair
“I’m really proud of these players and coaches and how they played tonight against a good football team. Our guys showed effort and that they are tough; they put their heart into this game. We just have to continue to push our guys and continue to get better.”
On his takeaways from the game
“We need to do a better job executing out of halftime, but defensively our guys stood on their toes and fought. They bent a little but didn’t break.”
On McCullough’s 49-yard field goal
I’m so confident in (kicker) Corey (McCullough); he’s a great kicker and works hard in practice and I want to give him those opportunities. When you continue to work on your act like he does, good things happen.”
On the defensive performance
I just told defensive coach (Cedric) Thomas how proud I was and what a great job he did putting those guys in position to make plays. Anytime you hold an FBS team to two touchdowns you are doing well. They had a couple of chances when they got inside the red zone but we came up with some stops and I just can’t say enough about those guys.”
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