Late TD lifts Braves over Jaguars
LORMAN, Miss. — Momentum stalled.
Southern rode into the woods of Mississippi looking to play the role of big brother, pushing around Alcorn State and snatching a third straight win that would announce its presence as a Southwestern Athletic Conference contender.
The mission was summed up in the Jaguars’ battle cry for the week: “Start fast, finish strong.”
Instead, they started slow and didn’t finish, watching a lead evaporate in the final minute of a 20-17 loss to the Braves in front of 15,000 at Spinks-Casem Stadium.
“It’s real disappointing,” quarterback Dray Joseph said. “We had a real good wave going, but I just think it made us stronger. I think we have to learn how to handle success.”
The big blow came with just 38 seconds left, when Alcorn quarterback Jordan Payne — one of many quarterbacks the Braves used on the night — snuck in from 1 yard out to cap a drive that began six minutes earlier on the 19-yard line.
Back then, it had seemed like Southern (2-3, 1-2 SWAC) had things under control after scoring 17 straight to go ahead 17-14. SU forced a quick three-and-out — but instead of punting, the Braves (2-4, 2-2) ran a fake to fullback Alondrea Young, and the Southern Lab graduate rumbled ahead for 14 yards on fourth-and-12.
Two third-down conversions followed, putting Alcorn into the red zone and setting up the plunge from Payne.
“We stopped them,” interim head coach and defensive coordinator Dawson Odums said. “They executed a fake punt there to keep the drive going and keep them on the field. We had made a play to get them off the field. We didn’t make a play to keep them out of the end zone.”
That small victory was little consolation to the Jaguars, as the defense had to live the nightmare its offense suffered through on the same field two years earlier. Then, SU was stopped on the 2-yard line in a 27-20 loss. This time, the defense had to watch Alcorn slug its way down the field and across the goal line.
“It’s the worst,” defensive tackle Casey Narcisse said. “I feel like we should have gutted it out, but we have to practice harder. We have to have more heart and more pride and come on with it.”
That was the mentality afterward for the Jaguars, who were more focused on continued improvement than the lost momentum after wins against Jackson State and Florida A&M.
While the ending was heartbreaking, Southern had itself to blame for a sluggish start.
Much like the week before against the Rattlers, SU went into the half lucky to only trail 7-0. The Jaguars managed only 108 yards, had a field goal blocked and couldn’t get into a rhythm on offense.
The defense did enough to keep them in the ballgame, but all the early strain was clearly a disadvantage late, as Joseph said his unit has to do a better job of sustaining drives to give its counterpart some rest.
“I don’t want to keep having to come from behind,” he said. “That’s tough. That’s what great teams do, they come from behind, but also great teams start fast and they finish strong.”
Southern was on its way to a strong finish after a furious rally at the end of the third quarter.
After giving up a gut-punching 95-yard touchdown drive — capped by Joe Price’s 38-yard catch and run — to fall behind 14-0, the Jaguars flipped a switch.
On the first play of the ensuing drive, Joseph hit receiver Mike Berry in stride down the middle of the field, and he raced into the end zone (the extra point was blocked). Shortly thereafter, Southern set up at the 34, thanks to Levi Jackson’s interception.
But SU couldn’t capitalize, and the next points came when Virgil Williams returned a punt 49 yards to the 1-yard line, fumbled, and D’Andre Woodland recovered in the end zone for a touchdown. Tight end Rashaun Allen tied the score at 14 with a two-point conversion attempt. After that, Southern turned a Woodland interception into a 32-yard go-ahead field goal.
Both teams punted from there, setting up Alcorn’s long, punishing, game-winning scoring drive.
Southern walked off the field knowing there was plenty of work to do. All in all, however, the locker room attitude wasn’t one of a team relapsing to its former struggling form.
“I tell those guys to remember how you felt the last time you won so you don’t have to feel like this again,” Odums said.