LORMAN, Miss. — Before Alcorn State broke Southern’s heart with a last-minute touchdown to clinch a 20-17 win, the Jaguars snatched away momentum in equally maddening fashion with the classic punt return, fake tackle, fumble recovery in the end zone combination.
Trailing 14-6 near the end of the third quarter, SU forced a punt that cornerback Virgil Williams caught at the 50-yard line. He juked a few defenders to escape from what looked like a no-gainer, then sprinted ahead into open space.
He cut back toward the center of the field and appeared to be tackled near the 25-yard line. But after it looked like the play was over, Williams was suddenly dashing off toward the right sideline.
“The defender grabbed me near my shoulder pads and tried to spin me around,” Williams. “I came down on top of him, put my hand on the ground and caught my balance.”
Then came the most baffling part of the play. Williams was jogging in for the score, surrounded by jubilant teammates, when he dropped the ball. The unforced fumble rolled into the end zone and nearly out of bounds for a touchback.
But cornerback D’Andre Woodland was there to scoop up the ball, giving Southern what became a tying touchdown after a two-point conversion pass from Dray Joseph to Rashaun Allen.
“I was running behind Virgil and about to start celebrating, when I saw him turn around fumbling the ball,” Woodland said. “I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ … I kind of scooped it with my arm and folded it up under me right before it was going to hit the line.”
Even though the fumble cost Williams the return touchdown he has long coveted, he was just happy Woodland saved the day — even if he still isn’t quite sure what happened.
“I went to the sideline and talked to coach. I was like, ‘I went through all that traffic with the ball, and when I got to the open field, I guess I just squeezed it too tight,” Williams said.
That return came on a new look from the Jaguars, who put two men deep on punt returns, using Jaleel Richardson and Justin Williams alongside Virgil Williams.
A bright spot for the Jaguars was Greg Pittman’s 32-yard field goal in the fourth quarter, which came after Pittman’s very low 43-yarder was blocked in the first quarter.
The Jaguars are now 1-for-4 on field goals, as Pittman missed a 37-yarder against New Mexico, and Matthew Hill was wide right on a 35-yard attempt at Jackson State.
Last week against Florida A&M, Southern lined up for a Hill field goal attempt but opted for a fake instead, which was intercepted. SU had another instance Saturday where reliable kicking could have made a difference, as it had to punt from the Alcorn 28-yard line in the third quarter. SU also opted to use Pittman, who is 1-of-2 on extra points, to kick a point-after in the third quarter, while Hill, who is a perfect 7-for-7, was on the sideline.
Saturday’s game experienced a few of the delays that come along with the game being broadcast on ESPN3, but there were two other, more unusual hold-ups as well.
As the teams lined up for the first play from scrimmage, play was stopped for the chain gang to untangle the yard sticks. The same thing happened in the third quarter, when there was a delay after Southern picked up 32 yards on a pass to Lee Doss.
Southern got worse news at its already injury-plagued free safety spot, as starter D’Mekus Cook, who was filling in for Mychal Bell (out with a high ankle sprain) left the game with a right shoulder injury.
Johnathon Wilson came in for Cook, taking over a position that has also seen injuries to Jamaal Martin and Marlon Smith this season.
On offense, running back Jerry Joseph left the game briefly in the second half after rolling his left ankle, but he returned and said he didn’t expect it to be serious.
Copyright © 2011, Capital City Press LLC • 7290 Bluebonnet Blvd., Baton Rouge, LA 70810 • All Rights Reserved