Despite not playing a football game in more than 600 days thanks to a self-inflicted COVID-19 pause in the spring, Alcorn State entered the fall as the odds-on favorite to win the SWAC West and play in the Celebration Bowl for the third straight season.
The MEAC/SWAC Challenge against North Carolina Central — a team, like Alcorn — had a long layoff between games — was expected to be the first step in what would be a march back on top.
But that wasn’t the case Saturday night in Atlanta.
An uncharacteristic performance by senior quarterback Felix Harper combined with a collective effort by North Carolina Central, the Eagles pulled off a 23-14 Week 0 upset of one of the best teams in the country.
North Carolina Central quarterback Davius Richard, who was the less-heralded signal-caller heading into this matchup guided a smart, methodical attack as a 15-point underdog.
The sophomore, who was a third-string on the depth chart at one point, completed 61 percent of his passes for 184 yards to go along with a pair of rushing touchdowns in the win.
In a game that was close for much of the night, the North Carolina Central defense held its own, holding the high-powered Braves’ attack to just 325 yards and five yards per rush.
For the Braves, Harper was a pedestrian 17-of-27 for 154 yards. Though he threw two touchdowns, inaccuracy, lack of ball security and being under siege in the pocket that did in the former SWAC Offensive Player of the Year.
With North Carolina Central’s win, the MEAC improves to 11-4 all-time in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge.