Southern gets another shot at Jackson State

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Southwestern Athletic Conference Championship Game is set.

Western Division champion Southern will play Eastern Division champion Jackson State on Dec. 7 at Reliant Stadium in Houston.

The Tigers clinched by winning at Alabama A&M 26-20 on Saturday, two days after the Jaguars clinched when Prairie View lost at Alcorn State 50-35.

The game will be rematch of a Sept. 28 game at A.W. Mumford Stadium in which Jackson State, which finished 8-0 in the SWAC, edged Southern 19-14. The yardage was even closer than the score as the Tigers outgained the Jaguars 355-348, but had no turnovers while Southern had two.

That matchup was the tightest SWAC game for JSU, which is 8-2 after losing nonconference games to Tulane (34-7) and Tennessee State (26-16).

Menard scores again

Freshman receiver Randall Menard of Breaux Bridge continued his late-season surge.

He caught a touchdown pass for the third consecutive game when he made a one-handed diving catch of a 30-yard pass from Dray Joseph late in the second quarter even as an Alabama State defender was being flagged for interfering with Menard on the play.

Menard had reached the end zone earlier when he grabbed a quick flanker screen pass from Joseph, sidestepped a defender, and raced 57 yards for a touchdown, but the score was negated because Aaron Hall was called for an illegal block.

The play was still a 42-yard completion because the penalty occurred upfield. Menard finished with four catches for 89 yards.

Third-down turnarounds

Both teams were hurt by allowing big plays on third down.

Though Southern was 7-of-17 on third downs and Alabama State 6-of-17, many of the conversions were improbable and produced points.

The Hornets first two touchdowns came on third downs, and their final one came on fourth down. Three of Southern’s touchdowns came on third downs.

On the one Alabama State touchdown drive on which the score didn’t come on third or fourth down, it was two defensive pass interference penalties on Johnathan Mack and Virgil Williams that turned a third-and-21 and a third-and-10, respectively, into first downs.

The Hornets returned the favor when Michael Showers committed pass interference on third-and-18 during which Southern scored a touchdown to take its first lead early in the fourth quarter.

Penalties aplenty

Those pass-interference penalties were just two of a whole bunch of infractions.

Southern was penalized 16 times for 138 yards, which were both season highs. The Jaguars previous highs for penalties and penalty yardage came Sept. 7 against Northwestern State when they were penalized 13 times for 116 yards.

Southern coach Dawson Odums said he wanted to look at the game film more commenting on the number of penalties.

Alabama State couldn’t take advantage because it was getting penalized 15 times for 168 yards.

“We kept getting penalties and having first sand 15, first and 20,” Hornets coach Reggie Barlow said. “We kept putting ourselves behind the chains.”

Visitors do it again

Southern’s victory marked the fourth consecutive season that the visiting team has won in this series. Alabama State had won two of the past three, but the Jaguars lead the series 24-9.

Close outcomes have been the norm of late as the past four games have been decided by a total of 10 points.