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By Lut Williams
Black College Sports Page
           
East Division champion Alcorn State won the last two SWAC Championship Games in Houston and was halfway to a three-peat after shutting out favored West Division champ Grambling State 17-0 in the first half Saturday.gsu swacfb16Grambling State University
2016 SWAC Football Champions

 
But Grambling rode a bevy of game-changing plays to turn things around and outscore the Braves 27-3 in the second half to pull out an exciting 27-20 win and claim the SWAC crown at NRG Stadium in the league’s 18th title game.

Five-eight, 175-pound junior running back/kick returner Martez Carter, whose fumble in Grambling’s opening possession led to the first Alcorn score, was too much for the Braves. He more than redeemed himself as he amassed 344 all-purpose yards including a go-ahead 31-yard touchdown run with 3:38 left in the game.
 
Carter finished with 136 rushing yards on 14 carries, 66 yards on six catches and 146 yards on five returns to earn the game’s Most Valuable Player award.
 
“We figured out how to win,” said victorious third-year head coach Broderick Fobbs who won his first title and the SWAC-leading 24th in program history. “We’ve been down before this year and our kids never stopped believing. And I never stopped believing.
 
“But Alcorn State showed why they were the two-time defending champion.”
 
Grambling (10-1) entered the game as the No. 1 team in HBCU football and a prohibitive favorite based on an explosive offense that averaged SWAC and black-college bests of 500 yards and 44 points per game. The Braves, who battled injuries all season long en route to mediocre 5-5 regular season and had lost to Grambling 43-18 earlier this year, showed they would not give up their crown without a fight.
 
After Carter’s fumble, they drove 84 yards in just four plays to open the scoring on a 15-yard run by quarterback Lenorris Footman. They came back to get a 29-yard Haiden McRainey field goal early in the second quarter before running back DeLance Turner got loose for a 69-yard scoring run to put them up 17-0 with 10:44 left in the half.
 
Alcorn’s defense meanwhile held the explosive Grambling offense to 164 total yards including 0-for-4 on third downs to take the 17-0 lead into the break.
 
Carter jumpstarted the Tigers’ (10-1) comeback with a scintillating 73-yard kickoff return that opened the second half. Four plays later on a crucial fourth-down play, wide receiver Verlan Hunter outjumped an Alcorn State defender in the end zone to haul in a 31-yard scoring pass from QB Devante Kincade that finally got Grambling on the board. Back-up placekicker Abubakkar Conteh, who came in after starter Jonathan Wallace was injured in the first half, kicked thru the extra point to leave Grambling trailing 17-7 after just over two minutes had elapsed in the third quarter.
 
After an Alcorn State punt, Kincade connected with Hunter for 31 yards and then hit wideout Chad Williams with a 33-yarder that carried down to the Braves 1-yard line. Lyndernian Brooks went over on the next play to pull the G-Men within 17-14 with 8:06 left in the period.
 
It stayed that way until McRainey kicked thru a 41-yard field goal with 9:46 left in the fourth quarter to give the Braves a 20-14 lead.
 
But Carter was the difference again in a six-play drive that pulled the G-Men even at 20. He had a 13-yard catch and 7-yard run before he took a swing pass 29 yards to Alcorn 2 where an Alcorn State player knocked the ball out of his hands right into the hands of Grambling WR Dominique Leake who took it in for the score. No game-changing play may have been bigger than what happened on the ensuing PAT. Alcorn State blocked Conteh’s kick and was running the other way before Conteh ran down and tripped the returner in Grambling territory to keep the score knotted at 20.
 
Grambling got the ball back with 4:59 left. Carter ripped off runs of 22 and 15 yards before sprinting off tackle for 31 yards and the winning score. Alcorn State got the ball back twice in the final minutes but threw an interception and had a Hail Mary pass knocked away as time expired.
 
Alcorn State outgained Grambling 448 to 422 yards led by Footman’s 259 passing yards (14-24-1). Turner ran for 126 yards on 16 carries to lead Alcorn on the ground. Norlando Veals led the receivers with four catches for 86 yards. The game was marred by 25 penalties for over 200 yards between the teams.
 
After a shaky start, Kincade finished 15 of 22 for 235 yards and two scores. Williams led Grambling with six receptions for 103 yards while Hunter had two grabs for 60 yards.
 
“Kincade had to dig down deep tonight,” said Fobbs of his quarterback who was named the league’s offensive player of the year earlier in the day. Kincade was 2 of 7 for 43 yards and was sacked four times in the first half.
 
“But I think it shows what our players have inside. Our kids were resilient.  And we’re now SWAC champions.”
 
Grambling will now represent the SWAC in the 2nd Annual Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl in Atlanta on Dec. 17 against MEAC champion North Carolina Central (10-1), the second-ranked HBCU team in the nation, for the HBCU national championship. 

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