In a game largely devoid of offensive electricity, Southern overcame a lightning delay and a bizarre end to regulation to pull off what could be a season-defining, 20-17 win in double overtime against Alabama A&M on Saturday night.
Matthew Hill’s 37-yard field goal lifted the Jaguars to victory before the less than 100 fans in attendance who returned to A.W. Mumford Stadium after a 105-minute delay.
The kick came after Bulldogs players had stormed the field at the end of regulation, thinking they had won after officials ruled the game over on a 10-second run-off after SU quarterback Dray Joseph was flagged for intentional grounding.
After conferring, the officials decided the game would continue because Southern had a timeout remaining. Hill then made a 37-yard field goal to send it to overtime.
“The officials forgot we had a timeout,” Southern coach Dawson Odums said. “I wanted to call a timeout, but they left the field. Officials make mistakes — they’re human. I’m just happy they got it right.”
Joseph said the lengthy delay had a calming effect on himself and his teammates, who were leading 14-10 at the time.
“I didn’t play my best,” he said. “The whole time we sat in the locker room during the delay, I just was getting my mind right for if Alabama A&M does score.”
Heading into the pivotal SWAC game, Southern knew its lone divisional challenger, Prairie View, had lost earlier in the day and that a win would give the Jaguars a leg up heading into the stretch run. The Jaguars also knew they had had issues scoring early in games, totaling 35 points in first halves of their five games.
Southern would solve the latter issue Saturday, grabbing a 14-0 lead less than three minutes in, but the Jaguars would not score again until the climactic late field goal.
“I’m just excited for the young men,” Odums said. “To just see them play so well after the delay ... they kept telling me, ‘Coach, don’t worry about it. We are going to find some way to win this football game.’ ”
After a bizarre sequence in which both teams combined for three straight turnovers at around the 4:30 mark of the fourth quarter, the contest went into the lengthy lightning delay.
Bulldogs defensive lineman Brandon King had recovered a Lenard Tillery fumble at the SU 35, and the Jaguars defense found itself trying to complete what had been more than two full quarters of shutout football and preserve the win.
After the delay, Alabama A&M needed seven plays to reach the end zone, capped by Toriano Upshaw’s 4-yard reception from Brandon Wells with 49 seconds left to put the Bulldogs up 17-14.
But Southern’s Willie Quinn returned the kickoff to the AAMU 49-yard line, putting the Jaguars within reach of a tying field goal. Lee Doss’ 17-yard reception took the Jaguars to the 32-yard line on the next play, and Southern eventually made it to the 10 before Joseph was dinged for the intentional grounding penalty that briefly ended the game.
Not many in the stadium likely foresaw such a finish after witnessing the game’s frenetic first three minutes.
On the Jaguars’ first possession, SU took the opening kickoff and moved from its 25 to the AAMU 33 in seven plays. On third-and-2, Joseph fired a pass to Willie Quinn, who appeared to not be looking for the ball. Quinn adjusted at the last moment, twisting his torso to make a one-handed grab and taking the ball to the end zone to give the Jaguars a 7-0 lead.
On the ensuing kickoff, the SU special teams came up with a big play. AAMU returner Lawrence Barnett muffed the ball, and Southern freshman Justin Bethancourt recovered in the end zone for a quick score to make it 14-0 just 21/2 minutes in.
When the Southern defense forced a three-and-out on the ensuing Alabama A&M drive, it seemed the Jaguars were poised to seize early control unlike it had in any game this season. But two plays into the next Southern possession, Joseph’s pass to the right was picked off by safety Lawrence Barnett and returned to the SU 19.
On fourth-and-goal, Barrington Scott bullied in to the end zone off left guard for the score, drawing AAMU within 14-7 with 4:37 left in the opening period.
In the second quarter, the Bulldogs again would convert a Southern miscue into points. Buoyed by a 48-yard Montarrius Smith catch that moved AAMU to the SU 34, the Bulldogs capitalized on a nine-play, 68-yard drive with a 32-yard Ceasar Ramon field goal — the Bulldogs’ first successful attempt of the season — to move within 14-10. It would be the game’s last score until the fourth quarter.
“We had to play great defense tonight,” Odums said, “to stay in this game.”