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 a victory or one Prairie View A&M loss of clinching the conference’s West Division title and returning here next month to play for the league championship. The Tigers are 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 plays host to Arkansas-Pine Bluff in a league game Nov. 23.
The Jaguars scored 21 points during a second-quarter stretch of 4:52 to take a 21-10 halftime lead. They had an opportunity to expand the lead midway through the third quarter, but a false start penalty pushed a field goal attempt from 37 to 42 yards and Greg Pittman was wide right.
TSU squandered an opportunity on the next possession as it drove to the Southern 30, but Javon Allen stopped Edward Perkins-Loving for a 3-yard loss on fourth-and-1.
Southern finally ended the second-half scoring drought with a 65-yard touchdown pass from Dray Joseph to Randall Menard with 10:52 left. Menard, a freshman from Breaux Bridge who had three catches for 119 yards and two touchdowns against Alcorn, caught an innocent-looking pass on a flanker screen at the Jaguars 40 before spinning out of a tackle and racing to the end zone.
Homer Causey’s 11-yard run cut the lead to 28-17 with 7:23 remaining, but Pittman’s 38-yard field goal with 2:14 left made it 31-17.
Causey’s 6-yard touchdown pass to Dedric Shipman completed the scoring with 1:19 remaining, and the ensuing onside kickoff failed.
The Jaguars started slowly as they turned the ball over on their first two possessions.
After forcing a three-and-out on the opening possession, they took advantage of three offside penalties and a roughing-the-passer infraction to 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 26 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 quarter.
On the Tigers’ next play, linebacker Anthony Balancier jumped up, deflected Causey’s pass and grabbed the ball 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 ran a quarterback draw and went untouched to the end zone to cut the Jaguars’ lead to 21-10 at halftime.