Southern hosts Alabama State, looks to end losing

Advocate staff photo by LIZ CONDO. Photo shot on 09/25/10. Trax No. 00023172A / Southern defensive lineman Casey Narcisse (95) reaches for Alabama A&M running back Tony Green (41) at Louis Crews Stadium in Huntsville, AL Saturday September 25, 2010. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by LIZ CONDO. Photo shot on 09/25/10. Trax No. 00023172A / Southern defensive lineman Casey Narcisse (95) reaches for Alabama A&M running back Tony Green (41) at Louis Crews Stadium in Huntsville, AL Saturday September 25, 2010.

Southern defensive tackle Casey Narcisse is a 6-foot, 300-pound man.

But when he thought about Saturday’s game against Alabama State being the last he’d ever play at home, the hole-stuffing senior from St. James wasn’t ashamed to say he cried.

“My momma told me real men cry — big or small,” Narcisse said. “You might shed a tear if you have that love for the game.”

Southern must hope that senior day at A.W. Mumford Stadium will bring out the best in a team that has already clinched its third straight losing season.

Looking to snap a three-game losing streak, the Jaguars find themselves in the spoiler’s role that has become all too familiar in recent years.

Alabama State, playing its final game of the Southwestern Athletic Conference season, can clinch a spot in the SWAC title game Dec. 1 with a win Saturday and one Jackson State loss.

JSU plays Alabama A&M, also in contention for the East Division championship, on Saturday before closing the regular season against Alcorn State.

But the Jaguars say they don’t need another team’s goals in the balance or even senior night festivities to get themselves motivated.

They’ve lost three weeks in a row, after all. They’re tired of the hurt.

“We just want to taste victory again,” Southern interim coach Dawson Odums said. “That’s what we’re after.”

The Jaguars haven’t been on the right end of things since blowing out Texas Southern in their Oct. 13 homecoming game.

They came painfully close last week.

After allowing Alabama A&M to race ahead 10-0 in the first half, the visiting Jaguars stormed back to take a 17-10 lead with 8:02 remaining.

Southern had a chance to put the game away after Anthony Balancier picked off Deaunte Mason deep in A&M territory, but the offense went nowhere in three plays and Matthew Hill had a 47-yard field goal blocked. The Bulldogs then marched for a game-tying score, surviving a scare when Narcisse failed to corral a would-be interception with less than a minute left.

A&M went on to win 24-23 in overtime, the game was ultimately decided by Hill’s missed extra point following a Southern score to start the extra frame.

Then, the Jaguars got back on the bus for their 500-mile trek home.

“It felt like forever and a day,” Nacisse said of the bus ride. “Everybody had their headphones in. Nobody was really talking. It was too long.”

The buildup to the Bayou Classic in two weeks could have a similar feel if Southern’s losing streak reaches four games.

But the Jaguars can look back to last week for proof they’re capable of beating a SWAC title contender. Or, they can look back precisely one year.

Alabama State had a chance to clinch the East when Southern ventured into the Cramton Bowl last season. Instead, the Jaguars rallied for a 26-23 upset.

Because of that loss, the Hornets did not make the SWAC title game.

Rival A&M did.

“We will overemphasize that this week so we will have an opportunity to compete against a good team in a hostile environment,” Alabama State coach Reggie Barlow said. “We have to stay focused in the moment.”

Alabama State has emerged in the East race thanks to three straight wins.

Georgia transfer Isaiah Crowell ranks second in the SWAC in rushing and leads the conference with 12 rushing touchdowns.

Quarterback Greg Jenkins, a dual threat who ranks sixth in the league in total offense, is expected back behind center after leaving with an injury in the first quarter of last week’s win at Prairie View.

Southern counters with an offense that has showed increased balance in recent games.

Junior quarterback Dray Joseph continues to lead the SWAC in passing.

Meanwhile, running back Sylvester Nzekwe has breathed life into the ground game with back-to-back 100-yard efforts.

Nzekwe missed three games early in the season with a high ankle sprain.

“When you can’t run the football, everybody can just load up and come at your quarterback,” Odums said. “When they have to respect the run, they’ve got to sit back some and not pressure you as much.”

A win on senior night can’t take back any of the three games Southern has lost by six points or less. It can’t get the Jaguars back in the SWAC race or even prevent another losing season.

But Nacisse said he and his teammates have had enough of the somber bus rides and the sleepless nights. Enough of losing.

“No one on our team likes to lose,” Narcisse said. “We’re ready to eat. Ready to leave the field without sorrow in our heart.”

Ready for tears of joy.