Reggie Barlow is some kind of magician.
He has in two weeks transformed a sizzling hot seat at Alabama State into — poof! — the SWAC East’s catbird seat. Similarly his surging team remade Jackson State coach Rick Comegy from a respected a former championship-winning coach — poof! — into a caricature of the petulant sore loser.
After the game, Jackson State’s Comegy reportedly said: “They (expletive) cheated” during a live radio interview with the school’s sideline reporter.
Broadcasters on the field confirmed the shocking case of unsportsmanlike conduct.
[TDR UPDATE: See video of post-game tirade by Jackson State coach Rick Comegy.]
Then — worse still, really — several Jackson State players reportedly walked into the locker room without shaking hands with their counterparts from Alabama State.
As much as Barlow is to be congratulated (more on that in a moment), Rick Comegy is to be reprimanded.
The league office, and his own school, must step in. Today. The Southwestern Athletic Conference — and Jackson State — have reputations to protect here. Each needs to make it clear that such deeply embarrassing misconduct is not tolerated. Especially when you see it trickling down to player conduct on the field.
You are better than this. At least, I desperately hope that you are.
As for Barlow’s magical ride, critics might reply: That’s the Eastern division for you. And they’d have something of a point. Alcorn State, which had a nearly month-long swoon, is still in it, too. Heck, they control their own destiny! (More on that in a moment, too.)
Still, that doesn’t give enough credit to what Alabama State has accomplished in the past two weeks, whalloping in-state conference rival Alabama A&M for the first time under Barlow and then holding on against Jackson State in a season-defining 32-30 victory last Saturday.
“We played well and had to fight to the end,” Alabama State’s Barlow said afterward. “They are a good team and knew they would play all the way to the end. I am happy we have good players that played hard to the end of the game.”
Jackson State quarterback Casey Therriault came into this match having passed for 250 or more yards in every game so far this season, including a staggering run of six straight 300-yarders. The Hornets, however, countered with a unit ranked first in the SWAC in scoring defense and second in passing yards allowed, pass efficiency defense and sacks.
I described it last week as a “gut-check moment” for Jackson. They failed.
[Jackson State, Alabama State coaches discuss the post-game controversy during today’s SWAC teleconference.]
Sure, Therriault passed for 305 yards, but went an unimpressive 18-of-41 while throwing a season-high three interceptions — including a pair in the first half that put his team in a 25-10 hole. (Therriault hadn’t tossed more than one on any night so far this year.)
At the same time, a sloppy Jackson State was showered with 17 penalty flags, losing 143 yards — and apparently sparking Comegy’s post-game tirade. None was more devastating than an unsportsmanlike conduct call late in the contest that allowed Alabama State to convert on a third down, and run out the clock.
The Tigers never led.
“Our defense played hard the whole game. We knew they were very good on the offensive side of the ball and we could not let up the whole game,” Barlow said — adding that his team “really had a chance to intercept a few more.”
Alabama State (6-3 overall, 5-3 SWAC) saw its young quarterback Devin Dominguez throw four touchdown passes to three different receivers. The Hornets had 145 yards rushing on 48 tries, part of a 368-yard night on offense.
That dropped Jackson State (6-3, 4-3) into a tie for second with Alcorn State but, temper tantrums aside, the Tigers still have a path to the SWAC Championship Game.
Of course, Alcorn State can make that go poof!, too …
BREAKING DOWN THE SWAC EAST RACE:
Only Alcorn State currently controls its own fate on the road to Birmingham, Ala., and the SWAC Championship Game. The Braves can defeat Prairie View and Jackson State in their final two games and punch their ticket to Legion Field.
Alabama State clinches a berth this weekend if the Hornets defeat Southern, and Alcorn State loses to Prairie View A&M.
Jackson State can make the championship game if Southern defeats Alabama State, while the Tigers beat Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Alcorn State.
Of course, this being the SWAC East, things instead could get very strange: If Alcorn defeats Prairie View and Alabama State defeats Southern, the Hornets would need Jackson State to defeat Alcorn State to qualify.
There can actually still be a three-way tie if Alabama State loses to Southern, and then either Jackson State or Alcorn loses to UAPB or Prairie View. The team that lost the previous week would have to win the Capital City Classic between Jackson and Alcorn — and then there would be a three-way tie for first at 5-4, with a series of complicated tiebreakers.