In a tightly contested game, Jackson State’s Rick Comegy says: ‘I sure enough prayed’

There are moments, when a game is whipsawing back and forth, when all you can do is look heavenward. Ask Rick Comegy, whose Jackson State squad pulled out a tightly contested game last week at fellow Southwestern Athletic Conference foe Southern.

“It was probably one of the most exciting games I have been involved with in a long time,” Comegy says. “They were sky high, and there was a packed house down there for them. It was just a game of give and take. I think about what the power of prayer can do. I sure enough prayed on the sidelines.”

Trailing 24-21 with just 4:36 minutes to play, Casey Therriault tossed a 12-yard touchdown pass to Rico Richardson that finally gave Jackson State (3-0, 1-0 SWAC) its 28-24 margin of victory. The score capped a seven play, 65-yard drive that left Southern at 1-2 and 1-1 in league play.

The home-standing Jaguars actually had one more possession to try for the win, but just 1:32 left on the clock. Jackson State defenders notched one sack, and forced three incompletions to end things. That stifling unit held Jaguars’ rushers to just 19 total rushing yards. Southern quarterback Dray Joseph, who had already tossed three scoring passes, could only complete one pass in the final quarter of play.

It was another thrilling game in this series, which has become one of the league’s marquee matchups — even during seasons like this, when both programs are have been ruled ineligible for the SWAC Championship Game because of listing APR scores.

“I am grateful that we came out with the win — it could have gone either way,” Comegy said. “You couldn’t get any distance between them in the score. They kept coming back. I’m just glad we had the tenacity and the ability to put it in the endzone to win.”

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Jackson State offense deflates after injury, but Alcorn falls anyway

Jackson State got the win, but lost its quarterback — who stood on the precipice of breaking several signature school records — in a 27-14 win over in-state rival Alcorn State.

The Tigers (8-3, 6-3 Southwestern Athletic Conference) had to be content with reaching eight victories for the third time in five seasons under coach Rick Comegy, because Saturday showed that without quarterback Casey Therriault — tops in the championship subdivision for passing yards as he took the field — Jackson State simply has no offense.

Comegy was undeterred: “I’ll be straight with you,” he said after the Capital City Classic, “it was about winning.”

But the difference was astounding.

Jackson State rolled up an impressive 27 points and 243 yards with Therriault. Then, after the Walter Payton Award candidate broke his collarbone on a second-quarter draw play, the Tigers could manage just 67 more total yards.
True freshman sub Mark Thigpen and the offense were shut out.

Luckily for all involved, Jackson State’s beleagured defense hassled quarterback Brandon Bridge into his own struggles for Alcorn State (5-6, 4-5), which had defeated the Tigers 14-7 last season. A subsequent hamstring injury had Bridge missing time, as well. His offense mustered only one score, 223 yards of total offense and nine first downs.

“This game basically was missed opportunities on our part,” Alcorn State coach Earnest Collins said afterward. “We got into the red zone enough times to where the outcome shouldn’t have been what it was.”

Despite his brief appearance, Therriault broke Robert Kent’s record at Jackson State for completions in a season, and tied his mark for touchdown passes in a season. He is also now the school’s recordholder for completion percentage in a season. But the injury meant Therriault couldn’t get close to setting a new single-season passing yard mark. He’ll also have to wait until next year to become Jackson State’s all-time leader in total offense.

Attendance bounced back at the Capital City Classic, with more than 43,000 announced at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium. That was the largest in four seasons.

Capital City Classic will showcase two of the SWAC’s top quarterbacks

I hate to get all Terrell Owens, but so what if the 17th annual Capital City Classic doesn’t impact the Southwestern Athletic Conference race?

These are your quarterbacks, man.

There remains a chance to experience an afternoon with two of the league’s brightest young passing stars, as Jackson State (7-3 overall, 5-3 SWAC) and Alcorn State (5-5, 4-4) face off on Saturday.

Braves standout Brandon Bridge, the freshman from Canada, has already thrown for more than 2,000 yards and run for nearly 600 while accounting for 26 scores. Running back Gabriel Nash has added 600 rushing yards and six touchdowns, but otherwise it’s been all-Bridge, all-the-time. This one guy is putting up 70 percent of the offense for Alcorn.

“He has a lot of intangibles and he will get better as he hones his skills,” Alcorn State coach Ernest Collins said. “We will win a lot of games with him here.”

Jackson State counters with Casey Therriault, the juco transfer who has thrown for a SWAC-best 3,272 yards and 29 touchdowns. He was just named the College Football Performance Awards national performer of the week after destroying Arkansas-Pine Bluff, throwing for five scores and running in two more.

Too bad we won’t be able to watch. The SWAC this week canceled its online broadcast of the Capital City Classic.

The SWAC announced plans to televise the game live on its website about a month ago, back when there appeared to be a divisional crown on the line — and a chance to advance to the conference title match. Of course, Alabama State subsequently won the East last week.

“Without it having championship implications,” assistant league commissioner Tom Galbraith said, “we’re going to allocate those funds elsewhere.”

Fair enough. These are tough economic times. But it’s a shame. There’s still something on the line for both teams.

[Prairie View A&M got up from the mat to end Alcorn State’s SWAC championship quest.]

Alcorn is looking to claim its first winning season since 2006. Therriault, meanwhile, is edging ever closer to six separate school marks — including passing yards in a season (369 yards away from Robert Kent’s 3,640 in 2001), career passing touchdowns (3 away from Kent’s 31 in 2001-02), passing completions in a year (7 away from Kent’s 245, in 2001), passing attempts (39 away from Kent’s 453, in 2001), total offense (440 yards away from Kent’s 3,824, also in ’01), and completion percentage (.5 percent away from Jimmy Oliver’s 58.0 in 2007).

Of course, the SWAC’s decision might have been made tougher if fans had done their part. Last year’s crowd of 16,429 was the smallest in almost a decade, according to report out of The (Jackson, Miss.) Clarion-Ledger, though that is partly attributed to rainy conditions. Nearly twice as many attended the 2007-08 editions, but that is still far from capacity at the 40,000-seat Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson.

Jackson State leads 10-6 since the founding of the Capital City Classic in 1994.

Jackson State wins one for ‘Big Coach,’ and in a very big way

Forget the Gipper. Jackson State wanted to win one for “Big Coach.”

Of course, you could be forgiven for wondering just how Jackson State would do, with nothing to play for and Rick Comegy back at the team hotel.

Well, the Tigers (7-4, 5-3 Southwestern) went out and hung 50 on Arkansas-Pine Bluff, as Casey Therriault threw for 331 yards and five scores and ran for two more touchdowns. The 52-30 shellacking came after Jackson State was ousted from the Eastern Division race a week before in a loss to Alabama State, then saw Comegy suspended because of a post-game outburst.

[Rick Comegy is reprimanded by Jackson State, suspended and fined by the Southwestern Athletic Conference for profanity-laced tirade about officiating; see video.]

The Golden Lions (5-5, 4-4) actually led 24-17 at halftime, and scored again on a 19-yard Justin Billings run to open the third period. But then UAPB surrendered four straight unanswered TDs passes from Therriault, who likely reignited his Walter Payton Award candidacy. Standout Pine Bluff receiver Raymond Webber — who ought to be on the Payton Watch List, as well — was held to no touchdowns, though he still had 10 catches for 140 yards.

All with Comegy gone, and a pair of sidemen calling the shots. Offensive coordinator Earnest Wilson was on the sidelines, while defensive coordinator Darrin Hayes remained in the press box.

“We won this one,” a group of Jackson State assistants yelped after the game, “for ‘Big Coach!'”

Comegy — who got score updates back in his hotel room — was also fined by the Southwestern Athletic Conference for profanity-laced comments regarding the officiating against Alabama State.

But his presence was still felt: Comegy fired the team up with a memorable pre-game speech, players said.

“We realize he made a sacrifice for us,” Therriault told The (Jackson, Miss.) Clarion-Ledger. “We wanted to win for him.”

Jackson State embarrassed itself with tantrums after Alabama State loss

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.

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.

Texas Southern sent Jackson State’s Air Raid attack crashing to ground

We told you last week not to sleep on Texas Southern. Somebody from Jackson State forgot to bring the alarm clock to Houston.

Texas Southern (4-3, 4-1 Southwestern Athletic Conference) simply out-toughed JSU, finishing with 295 yards on the ground while holding Jackson State (5-2, 3-2) to minus-6. A banged-up JSU defense allowed 260 yards and 21 points … in the second half. TSU’s Marcus Wright ran for 139 yards and a touchdown and Arvell Nelson added 115 rushing yards and scores from 12 and 1 yard out in the Texas Tigers’ 21-18 win on Saturday.

Questionable clock management, a disastrous performance on third-down defense, and a poorly timed onside kick made things worse. Whipping winds didn’t help, either.

Jackson State was aiming for a two-game lead in the SWAC Eastern Division, and now must regroup for a home contest against a surging Prairie View A&M — the conference’s defending champs.

[Southern’s Stump Mitchell: ‘I don’t care where we play Jackson State’]

“One game isn’t going to kill you,” JSU coach Rick Comegy said. “We’re still in good shape.”

I don’t know. I think Texas Southern might just have solved a riddle that has bedeviled most so far this year: You’ve got to hound Casey Therriault (who went down five times in the first half) until a typically attacking Jackson State is forced to shorten its receiver routes. That slows everything way, way down — effectively grounding JSU’s “Air Raid” offense: 10 times on Saturday night, Jackson State drives ended in five plays or less. Texas Southern picked off its 13th pass of the year.

JSU came into this game boasting the No. 1 passing offense in the nation, averaging 34.67 points a game, 10th in the nation. But while Therriault threw for 256 yards, the offense’s lone score came when he hitt Marcellos Wilder on an 10-yard TD pass. He completed just 37 percent of 48 attempts on the night.

“We just didn’t come out to play,” Therriault said. “It’s all our fault. That’s what it is.”