(STATS) – The final SWAC championship game has received the best possible matchup – a rubber game between Alcorn State and Grambling State.
Alcorn beat Grambling State in the 2015 title game before the Tigers returned the favor last year.
They’ll face off again Saturday at NRG Stadium in Houston, with East Division champion Alcorn (7-4) seeking to win the championship game for the third time in four years and West Division winner Grambling (10-1) trying to add to its record seven titles.
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There’s a bittersweet feeling surrounding the showdown. The 10-team SWAC has the only conference championship game in the FCS, but it will discontinue the 19th annual event, which began in 1999, after Saturday’s matchup. Beginning next year, the conference’s Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl bid will go to the regular-season champion.
Saturday’s Alcorn-Grambling winner will still decide who represents the SWAC against MEAC champion North Carolina A&T in the Celebration Bowl on Dec. 16 in Atlanta.
Grambling, the 2016 Celebration Bowl champ, is the favorite. Not only did the Tigers rally past Alcorn 27-20 in last year’s SWAC championship game, but it throttled the Braves 41-14 in a regular-season matchup on Oct. 21.
The Tigers haven’t lost since a season-opening game to Tulane and have won their last 18 games and 27 of 28 against SWAC opponents. They feature quarterback DeVante Kincade, the conference’s offensive player of the year; all-purpose back Martez Carter; and linebacker De’Arius Christmas, the defensive player of the year.
“We’ve done a really good job of building blocks on the building that we’re building,” SWAC coach of the year Broderick Fobbs said. “That’s the way we go about each season is building a foundation in Week 1 and then seeing where we are and then going from there. I thought that we’ve done a really good job of continuing to build on what we’ve been able to accomplish this season. With a good quarterback, a good running back, then also a really good defense, it gives you a chance to be successful.”
Unlike Grambling, which beat Southern in the Bayou Classic last Saturday, Alcorn has had two weeks to prepare for the SWAC title game, but it enters off a surprising, 7-3 loss to Jackson State on Oct. 18.
The Braves feature SWAC rushing leader De’Lance Turner (1,223 yards) and pace the conference in offensive yards per game (457.6) and rushing yards per game (241.3).
“The biggest thing is you kind of learn something from each game that you play as a coach and as a player,” Alcorn coach Fred McNair said recently on his WPRL radio show. “One thing that I’ve learned, and even the Grambling game, it was a game that I can’t even describe the way it was played and the vision I saw on the field that day, I never experienced it in my life being around football. It was just like a spell was cast upon this Braves’ sideline to where we couldn’t do anything right.
“With the coaching staff, you’re always trying to make it to where the next game is the big game. And that’s where we take the approach and get these guys’ heads back into for the next week.”