Southern came into Saturday’s contest searching for an identity.
The defense had been shredded in their first two games.
The offense had struggled mildly to sustain any drives.
The inability to sustain drives could be attributed to the absence of starting running back Lenard Tillery, who missed the Jaguars’ first two games because of a leg injury.
Southern’s rushing attack was able to muster up a mere 165 yards rushing and no touchdowns combined against Houston in the opener and against Northwestern State last week.
However, that all changed with the addition of Tillery.
The freshman running back provided stability to the Jaguars ground game that had lacked a between-the-tackles runner to balance a highly touted passing attack.
Tillery began the game slowly, with three carries for a minus 4 yards total in the first quarter.
After all, this was Tillery’s first game as a collegian, and he was coming off an injury.
Yet Tillery would not be denied and eventually found his groove and jump start a lethargic offense and Southern team.
With the Jaguars trailing 21-7 in the second quarter, Tillery ripped off a 33-yard run up the middle, outracing Panther defenders to the end zone, and injecting energy and belief into Jaguar Nation.
“He was great,” quarterback Dray Joseph said. “The offensive line did a great job of opening holes, and Lenard ran the ball great. He protected well and it was great to have him out there tonight.”
After the Panthers scored consecutive touchdowns to take a 35-13 lead in the second half, Tillery answered the call again.
Converting a touchdown from two yards out as the third quarter ended to draw Southern closer at 35-20.
After a fumble by Prairie View receiver Deandre Cooper on the ensuing possession, Tillery seized the opportunity, taking the handoff from Joseph, Tillery made a defender miss and scampered into the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown run, cutting the Panthers lead to 35-27.
“He’s a spark,” coach Dawson Odums said. “Seeing him run the ball the way he’s capable of and the kind of excitement that he brings, he’s a difference maker.”
“He runs with elusiveness and power, and I was just happy to see him back out there.”
Tillery finished the game with 75 yards and three touchdowns on 16 carries in Southern’s 62-59 win in overtime over Prairie View.
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