Alabama State’s hopes of returning to the Southwestern Athletic Conference Championship Game were dashed on Saturday when Jackson State won its fifth consecutive game with a 37-11 romp over Alcorn State, sending the Tigers — and not the Hornets — to Legion Field on Dec. 8.
For the third consecutive year, Alabama State will finish atop the SWAC East Division standings. For the second consecutive year, the Hornets will be sitting at home in December as the team that won the head-to-head battle advances to Birmingham.
Last year, it was Alabama A&M. This year, it was Jackson State, which finished with an identical 7-2 conference record but advances on the strength of its 37-34 win over the Hornets on Oct. 13 in Cramton Bowl.
“I think Jackson State did a really good job of staying focused and staying in it,” Alabama State coach Reggie Barlow said. “When they had to make plays, they did that and that’s why they were able to get in the championship game. It’s a really good job by their coaches and for us, it’s just another learning lesson that you have to take care of your own business. You can’t rely on anyone else to do that for you.”
The Tigers broke open a tight 6-3 game at halftime on Saturday with a 21-0 run in the third quarter. Rakeem Sims had 152 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries to lead the Tigers, who will face Arkansas-Pine Bluff in the championship game. Jackson State and UAPB are the only two blemishes on an otherwise perfect conference record for the Hornets.
For the second consecutive year, Alabama State played the waiting game and lost. Now all that’s remaining is a Thanksgiving Day matchup with Tuskegee in the Turkey Day Classic. While Barlow doesn’t have to worry about a letdown from his players after missing out on the SWAC title game, he does have to make sure his players channel their emotions correctly as the Hornets prepare for homecoming and the opening of their new football stadium.
“You don’t want guys to peak too early,” he said. “They’re going to be excited because of the magnitude of everything. We want them to enjoy everything that comes with it. We want to make sure they stay focused and doing what they are supposed to do.”