There was reason for an unnerving feeling when Southern traveled to Mississippi Valley State for a Southwestern Athletic Conference football game Saturday. Itta Bena, Miss., sits alone, miles from the nearest town, Greenwood. Rice-Totten Stadium is surrounded by miles of cotton fields.
The stadium itself gives off a discomforting feeling. The seating capacity is a mere 10,000 fans with limited space in the locker rooms, forcing players to get taped on a table in public view just outside the teams’ dressing areas.
“We talked to our team last week about the kind of environment that we were going to encounter,” Southern coach Dawson Odums said. “A lot of our fans were not going to make the trip. It was an eerie feeling being there, no music during pregame warm-ups.
“You have to block all those distractions out and really motivate yourself to go play football.”
The Jaguars defense was up to the task, yielding zero points and just 150 yards in the first half, but the Southern offense struggled.
“I think in the first half, the guys played very well on defense and special teams,” Odums said. “Our offense kind of sputtered there in the first half. We came out and made some adjustments in the second half.”
Yet Odums was concerned only with the bottom line. Although the Jaguars struggled, they were happy to head home with a win.
“We were just happy to get out of there with a W,” Odums said.
There won’t be anything unfamiliar this Saturday for the Jaguars. Bitter rival Jackson State travels to Baton Rouge to take on the Jaguars in an atmosphere that figures to be a complete 180 from last week.
This Saturday’s game features two of the three remaining teams unbeaten in SWAC play.
“It’s going to be an electrifying atmosphere,” Odums said. “It’s a great rivalry between two schools with a lot of passion and tradition at both places.
“You’ve got to defend your home turf in the SWAC. And hopefully being at home gives us an emotional lift. Jackson State is one of the better teams not just in the conference, but in the country.”
The game is important not only in the standings but also for Southern’s prestige.
“We understand that there’s a lot of bragging rights at stake,” Odums said. “This is the kind of football game that a lot of recruits look at when choosing their school. And we want them to choose Southern.”
Throughout his time at Southern, Odums has preached ‘No Negativity,’ telling his team to focus on the task at hand.
“You’re going to deal with adversity during the course of a football game,” Odums said. “You’re going to get down. It’s great when you come off the field and you have somebody there picking you up, encouraging you to play the next play.
“Those things feed players. And when you start to get some momentum, you start believing. ... It not only affects you on the field, but off it as well.”
Southern senior wide receiver Lee Doss was named SWAC offensive player of the week after catching 10 passes for 164 yards including a 60-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter of the the Jaguars’ 17-7 win over Mississippi Valley State.
Doss has 31 catches for 530 yards and four touchdowns this season.