With 30 minutes remaining in the last home game he’d ever play, Southern senior Charles Hawkins emerged from the north tunnel in A.W. Mumford Stadium, intent on bringing the Jaguars back from the brink.
On the opening play of the second half against Alabama State on Saturday night, Hawkins caught the kickoff cleanly at the 1-yard line, exploded past a mass of bodies and sailed toward the end zone for a 99-yard touchdown, bringing his beleaguered Southern team to within seven points.
They were in business. They had momentum. And with 20 seconds remaining, they had a chance to win, electing to go for a two-point conversion when an extra point could’ve tied the score.
“It gave us that jolt we needed,” interim coach Dawson Odums said, referring to Hawkins’ kickoff return. “It was exciting. It put energy back in the sideline. And we rode that momentum all the way down to that two-point play at the end.”
But in a fitting end to another star-crossed season, they didn’t have enough.
On the biggest play of SU’s 31-30 loss to the Hornets on a cool, breezy night before 14,220 fans, junior quarterback Dray Joseph stepped forward and threw across his body. He short-armed his pass to a wide-open Rashaun Allen in the end zone. It was well short.
Just like that, Southern’s home schedule was over. Its losing streak extended to four games. And all that remains for the Jaguars (3-7, 2-6 Southwestern Athletic Conference) is the Bayou Classic — a Nov. 24 date in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome against Grambling, which hasn’t won a conference game yet.
Saturday’s loss assured Southern of a third consecutive season with four or fewer wins. It is the first time the Jaguars have put together three straight sub-.500 seasons since 1990-92.
This year, Odums had hoped to turn around a team that suffered through the firing of Stump Mitchell — and at first, the Jaguars looked like they might.
But SU has dropped four in a row — including back-to-back nail-biters that ended in heartbreaking fashion.
Last week in Normal, Ala., the Jaguars took Alabama A&M to overtime but missed an extra-point attempt to fall 24-23.
This time — at the end of a fast-paced game in which Joseph excelled, throwing for a season-high 349 yards and three touchdowns as SU nearly erased a 21-point first-half deficit — Odums decided not to leave Southern’s fate in the hands, or feet, of a kicker.
“I just think that we had spent so much energy to get down there, and we were riding the momentum,” Odums said. “Why not? What have we got to lose?”
Even after the two-point attempt failed, players said they approved of the move.
“I liked the call,” said wide receiver Lee Doss, who had two touchdowns and was the primary target on the two-point play. “I’m an aggressive guy myself, so I like taking shots and taking chances.”
The Jaguars remained within striking distance after Hawkins’ kickoff return.
SU regained possession with 3:05 left after Alabama State kicker Bobby Wenzig missed a 43-yard field-goal attempt that would’ve given the Hornets (7-3, 7-2) a 10-point lead.
From there, SU converted a fourth-and-2 when Joseph hit Doss down the middle, then scored when Joseph found Doss again on a 6-yarder to the goal line with 20 seconds left.
The Jaguars took two timeouts before their two-point attempt. The first was to fix an alignment problem. The second was to sneak-peek the ASU defense. The play-call— Doss in motion, hoping to lose his cover man as a sea of bodies got in the defender’s way — never changed.
“We were looking to run a ‘rub’ route ... maybe get a pick and get (Doss) out into the flats,” Odums said. “They did a good job of covering it.”
Joseph, operating in a one-back, two-receiver set, took a shotgun snap and eventually stepped forward in the pocket, moving slightly to his left as he came to a mental fork in the road: Tuck it and run, or stop and throw?
Joseph spotted Allen alone in the back right corner of the end zone — but facing pressure, Joseph didn’t get enough strength on his throw.
SU’s onside kick attempt failed, and the game ended.
It was another thrilling end to a game between these two teams, whose previous meetings went down to the final seconds.
In 2010, the Jaguars were down by eight points when they scored a touchdown with 16 seconds remaining.
But fullback Brian McCain threw a punch on the play, resulting in a 15-yard penalty that forced SU to try its two-point conversion from the 18.
Jeremiah McGinty’s pass failed, and Alabama State escaped with a 21-19 win.
Last year, the Hornets could’ve clinched the SWAC Eas with a win over Southern — but quarterback J.P. Douglas came off the bench and led the Jaguars to a stunning last-minute drive, which ended when McCain dove into the end zone with 9 seconds left for a 26-23 victory.
By Saturday night, McGinty, Douglas and Mitchell were all gone. McGinty was tossed off the team during the ’11 season; Douglas was suspended indefinitely this month; and SU parted ways with Mitchell in September after two-plus seasons.
Saturday night, for the final time this year in A.W. Mumford Stadium, the Jaguars parted ways with their fans, after another heartbreaking defeat.
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