Southern loses rare Thursday contest
“Oh man, we have a good time.” Curtis Sanford, longtime Southern tailgater
Final score update: Mississippi Valley, 6; Southern, 0.
More than seven hours before Southern’s football home opener on ESPNU, Curtis Sanford was setting up his barbecue pit for a menu that later included chicken, pork chops and sausage.
Sometimes up to 60 friends are on hand.
“Oh man, we have a good time,” said Sanford, who has been tailgating at Southern games for 40 years.
The Jaguars hosted Mississippi Valley State for a 6:30 p.m. kickoff, and hoped to get its first win after losing 66-21 to New Mexico on Sept. 1.
Southern lost Thursday’s game, 6-0.
Sanford, 64, was among the early arrivals for the Thursday night game, only the second such contest in school history.
Southern hosted Prairie View on a Thursday night in 2009, which turned out to be the final home game for longtime coach Pete Richardson.
While everyone was glad to have football back, not everyone embraced the weeknight kickoff this time.
“This Thursday throws everything off,” said Charly Wright, a longtime Southern fan who, with her husband, Daryl, regularly spends Friday and Saturday nights on campus in their recreational vehicle to get the most out of home games.
Wright noted that, on a typical Saturday, tailgaters would be swarming over campus, including treasured spots just east of the stadium and near the F.G. Clark Activity Center, where resurfacing work on a nearby lot changed the normal parking patterns.
“On Thursday people have to work,” Wright noted.
“It only hurts attendance,” she said. Southern reported attendance at the game at 7,788.
Southern Chancellor James Llorens said the Thursday night kickoff was required under the Southwest Athletic Conference’s television contract. Llorens said having the game carried on ESPNU had advantages, and nationwide exposure. “It is a chance for us to get the name of the school out,” he said.
Southern University System President Ronald Mason said Thursday’s television coverage benefited many of the school’s 80,000 alumni. “Their main connection with the campus is Southern football,” Mason said.
“The exposure seemed to outweigh the hassles of doing it,” Mason said of the Thursday night kickoff.
Southern finished with records of 2-9 and 4-7 in the past two years.
Over the past seven seasons, the school has lost five or more games six times amid dwindling attendance.
Head coach Stump Mitchell has faced criticism, and a turnaround in 2012 is considered crucial for him to keep his job.
Students interviewed before the game were upbeat about both the game Thursday night and the team’s prospects for the season.
“Everybody is looking forward to it, very excited,” said Tashaneka Coleman, of Baton Rouge, a freshman who plans to major in psychology.
Coleman downplayed the team’s loss to New Mexico. “I feel that they just had first game jitters,” she said.
Coleman said she liked the Thursday night kickoff.
“That makes it more exciting,” she said. “There’s not much you can do on a Thursday.”
No classes were held after 12:30 p.m. on Thursday, and Southern doesn’t schedule classes for Fridays.
Erika Robins, a senior from Baton Rouge, said she would be at the game and has no problems with Mitchell. “I think he is doing a good job so far,” Robins said.
Charly Wright also spoke up for Mitchell.
“I don’t think it is the coach,” Wright said of recent losses. “It is the morale of the team.”
Fan Renetha Selvage Robinson said she too thinks the season looks promising.
“But regardless I’m going to Jackson State and Alcorn State,” she said of upcoming road trips that feature Jaguar rivals.
For friends Frederick Magee, of Bogalusa; Donald Short, of Reserve; and Raymond Batiste, of Bogalusa, the home opener was a chance to tailgate and look forward to a season of gumbo, jambalaya, chicken and fried alligator, in addition to the football.
Magee said he is retired, so the weeknight kickoff was no problem for him.
Short said he liked the school’s last recruiting class.
“I’m optimistic about it,” Batiste said of the season.
However the season unfolds the tailgating will not disappoint.
Sanford said this year’s menu may even include one of his favorites — squirrel and dumplings.
“That’s for the old folks,” the Zachary resident said with a laugh.<