Jackson State faces yet another gut-check moment in Alabama State

Jackson State could be playing a winner-take-all game against Alabama State this week for the SWAC Eastern crown.

Unless the Nov. 20 game against Alcorn State is the winner-take-all game, instead. (Alcorn beat Alabama State, so the Hornets hold a tiebreaker.)

These days, in this ever-tightening race for a divisional title, Jackson State coach Rick Comegy says Saturdays are beginning to feel like playoff matchups — every time.

“Each game right now in the SWAC is a game of magnitude for us,” said Comegy, coming off a crucial win over defending Southwestern Athletic Conference champion Prairie View A&M. “We are just happy to have an opportunity.”

His offense is clicking. Casey Therriault, who leads the championship subdivision with 335 passing yards per game, went for 291 (and a touchdown) to win 30-13 last week.

That hasn’t been the problem. Thing is, Jackson State’s defenders — in the midst of a surprising slump after leading the SWAC over the past three years — are coming around, too: Going back to what Comegy calls a “floor defense,” the Tigers allowed just 27 net rushing yards, made five sacks and held the Prairie View offense to no touchdowns last week. Overall, Jackson State surrendered its fewest yards since a win over Stillman College in September 2008.

“As long as we can bring both sides of the ball together,” Therriault said this week, “I don’t see us losing a game.”

Up next, however, is another of those postseason-level emotional checkpoints: Alabama State, with a developing offensive attack keyed by a rebounding rusher in Andrew Pitts and a quarterback who’s shown flashes.

[Gritty Alcorn State win narrows this year’s wacky SWAC East race.]

Devin Dominguez, dangerous on the ground, has thrown for 1,037 yards passing and 12 touchdowns, with seven interceptions. He played error-free small ball last week, going 6-of-15 for 85 and a touchdown as Pitts overcame some recent issues holding on to the ball to mount a career day, with 122 yards and a touchdown. A week earlier, Dominguez completed 18-of-17 passes for 269 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in a 24-0 win over Savannah State.

The Hornets’ defense, last seen holding in-state rival Alabama A&M to just 210 yards in total offense, has given up only 16 touchdowns, tops in the SWAC. Third in total offense, this group is also second against the pass and second in the league with 23 sacks — something that could seriously test Therriault.

“We’ve got a tough game coming up with Alabama State,” Comegy conceded, during the weekly SWAC coaches teleconference. “They are generating a lot of energy, and getting better each week. We just have to keep working.”

A stumble might just end the season, for all intents and purposes, for Jackson State — which is eyeing its fourth Eastern title since the SWAC Championship Game was founded in 1999, but first since falling to Grambling in 2008.

“We don’t take any game lightly,” Comegy said. “We’re just looking at trying to be a better football team. Right now, we can’t afford to look outside the box. We have to be critics of what we’re doing — and keep them with a lot of energy. We have to stay motivated.”

The league standings should be all the motivation needed.

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