Southern was on the brink of witnessing its season fall into a tailspin. Losers of two straight to begin the year, the Jaguars’ hopes appeared bleak, trailing 35-13 to Prairie View late in the third quarter.
Perception would indicate that Southern was well on its way to a third consecutive loss, worsened by the fact it would come at the hands of Prairie View in the conference opener.
Southern’s season was being scripted as a disappointing one, considering the amount of senior star players at key positions.
Yet coach Dawson Odums and his team refused to fold.
“At halftime, I just told the guys that they had worked too hard,” Odums said. “We hadn’t played our best this year. We were still trying to find out what kind of team we are. We had to go out in the second half and compete.”
And compete they did.
“It doesn’t start just in the game,” Odums said about motivating his squad. “It starts with the offseason.”
With Southern backed into a corner, sophomore receiver Willie Quinn ignited a spark, returning a kickoff 68 yards deep into Panther territory.
The return ignited a furious rally that saw the offense score 49 points in the final 16 minutes of regulation and in overtime.
Quinn’s kick return may have just saved Southern’s season.
“He’s a little giant — the smallest player on the team with the biggest heart,” Odums said.
“He’s a big play kind of guy. He’s tough to get your hands on. He’s real shifty and elusive. We have to find more ways to get him the football.”
Southern was dealing with a plethora of obstacles.
Not only were they fighting an uphill battle trailing 35-13, they were also without key starters because of suspension, academic issues and injuries.
Despite the hurdles, the Jaguars managed to overcome the adversity by flipping the number of mistakes.
“We were on the plus side of turnovers and penalties, and that’s what helps win football games,” Odums said.
The 49 points scored in the second half is a tell-tale sign of what the Jaguars offense could offer.
Freshman running back Lenard Tillery provided a balance to a potent passing attack, scoring three touchdowns, including a 33-yard touchdown in the first half and a 13-yard score in the second.
“He runs with elusiveness and power,” Odums said. “He’s a determined runner. If there are 2 yards to be had, he’s going to get those.”
With the emergence of Tillery, the final piece of the puzzle may be in place to lift an otherwise potent offense to a higher level.
“We have a lot of talent, there’s no doubt about it,” Odums said. “We have a great quarterback and very good receivers.
“Willie Quinn and Lee Doss are two very good receivers that people will have to take notice.”
The way Southern achieved victory Saturday is a clear indication of what they are capable of and what is required of the Jaguars.
“We know what we have to do,” Odums said. “We just have to compete and play hard. We’ll just continue to get the guys to believe that you can’t just go into football games to show up and win. You’ve got to work hard. We’ve got to keep pushing forward and not get complacent.”