HOUSTON — These trips to Houston aren’t such a bad deal for Southern after all.
The Jaguars had lost their past five games and six of the past seven played in this city before beating Texas Southern 31-24 on Friday night at BBVA Compass Stadium.
Southern, 5-4 and 5-2 in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, moved within one victory or one Prairie View loss of clinching the conference’s West Division title and returning here next month to play for the league championship. The Tigers fell to 2-7 and 2-6.
The Jaguars bounced back from a 44-38 loss to Alcorn State last week and overcame three turnovers to maintain control of the division with a one-game lead and the tiebreaker edge. They could clinch the division as early as Thursday, when Prairie View plays at Alcorn State.
Southern has two more SWAC games — at Alabama State next Saturday and vs. Grambling in the Bayou Classic on Nov. 30 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Prairie View also hosts Arkansas-Pine Bluff in a league game Nov. 23.
In other words, it would take a very unlikely series of events to keep the Jaguars out of the title game.
“They are starting to believe now that we can accomplish that goal that’s in front of them,” coach Dawson Odums said. “But it takes winning to get there, and we have to play a lot better in order to do that.
“I think they’re real hungry (for the West championship). Every game you win, you get a step closer. We understand that, and we’re in the driver’s seat and we just got a step closer.”
The Jaguars scored 21 points during a second-quarter span of 4:52 to take a 21-10 halftime lead. After a scoreless third quarter, Dray Joseph threw a flanker screen to Randall Menard, who spun out of an attempted tackle and sprinted the last 60 yards of a 65-yard scoring play.
“We’ll take the victories how they’ll come,” Joseph said. “No matter how bad or how ugly they are, sometimes it is that way. You just have to take what they give you and just roll with the punches.”
Though the game ended with a one-score difference, the Tigers never seriously threatened to take tie late.
Homer Causey’s 11-yard run cut the lead to 28-17 with 7:23 remaining, but Greg Pittman’s 38-yard field goal with 2:14 left made it 31-17.
Causey’s 6-yard pass to Dedric Shipman completed the scoring with 1:19 left and the ensuing onside kickoff failed when Justin Morgan fell on the ball for Southern.
“I think the defense was just hitting on all corners today,” linebacker Detrane Lindsey said. “A few balls got out of our reach, but as a unit we played good.”
After forcing a three-and-out on the opening possession, the Jaguars took advantage of three offside penalties and a roughing-the-passer infraction to the reach the Tigers 19. But Lee Doss lost a fumble at the TSU 11.
The Tigers drove to the Southern 32 but, on third-and-1, a shotgun snap sailed past Causey, who fell on the ball for a 21-yard loss.
On the Jaguars’ ensuing possession, a Joseph pass was tipped before being intercepted by Demetrius Johnson at the Southern 31.
Five plays later, Daveonn Porter appeared to run 4 yards for a touchdown, but the play was nullified by a holding penalty and TSU settled for Eric Medina’s 22-yard field goal.
Southern’s next possession appeared to stall at the Jaguars 39, but Morgan lined up as a blocking back in punt formation, took the snap and sprinted 27 yards. On the next play, Joseph threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to Doss.
On TSU’s second play after the kickoff, Porter fumbled and Trae’ Tiller recovered for Southern at the Tigers 22. Nine plays later, LonDres Johnson scored on a 1-yard run that gave the Jaguars a 14-3 lead midway through the second.
On the Tigers’ next play, linebacker Anthony Balancier jumped, deflected Causey’s pass, then grabbed it and ran 10 yards for a 21-3 lead.
TSU got a boost just before halftime when Brandon Thomas intercepted a Joseph pass and returned to the Tigers 48.
On fourth-and-1 from the Southern 43, Causey, who finished with 120 yards on 14 rushes, ran a quarterback draw and went untouched to the end zone to cut the Jaguars’ lead to 21-10 at halftime.
“We had some turnovers that really just took the life out of us,” Odums said. “We had a good drive (on the opening possession) and then we had the fumble by Doss.
“I think when you look at our team overall, you see a confident football team. ... At the end of the year, people won’t say ‘How?’ They’ll just say, ‘How many?’ ”