Southern gets “signature win” at Alabama State

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Southern mathematically clinched the Southwestern Athletic Conference Western Division title when Prairie View A&M lost to Alcorn State on Thursday night.

But on Saturday, the Jaguars put their imprint on their first division title in nine years by beating Alabama State 31-28 in dramatic fashion in New ASU Stadium.

“We didn’t have that signature win to say we’re an elite team in this conference,” Southern coach Dawson Odums said. “Not until tonight.”

Mike Jones caught a career-high three touchdown passes as the Jaguars overcame the absence of leading receiver Lee Doss, who was serving a one-game suspension for violating an unspecified team rule. And Greg Pittman drilled a career-long 43-yard field with 18 seconds left to give the Jaguars the win.

After the Hornets scored touchdowns on their first two possessions of the game, the Jaguars limited them to 14 points the rest of the way and bottled up the SWAC’s leading running game for most of the second half.

Southern (6-4, 6-2 SWAC) has a nonconference game against Clark Atlanta next Saturday at A.W. Mumford Stadium before ending the regular season against Grambling in the Bayou Classic on Nov. 30.

The Jaguars also learned their opponent for the Dec. 7 SWAC title game in Houston as Jackson State clinched the East by beating Alabama A&M 26-20. That outcome eliminated Alabama State (6-4, 6-2), which saw its six-game SWAC winning streak end.

The Hornets tied the score at 28 on Isaiah Crowell’s 43-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-3 with 1:29 left. Crowell, the Georgia transfer who went over the 1,000-yard mark for the season, finished with 145 yards but had just 9 in the second half before that touchdown.

“They were stacking the box, then they started slanting their defensive linemen in the second half, and that made it harder for us to run,” ASU coach Reggie Barlow said.

After Crowell’s touchdown, ASU had little time to celebrate as Jaleel Richardson returned the ensuing kickoff 64 yards to the ASU 28.

“We knew we had time on the clock, and we just had to make a big play to get the offense in position,” Richardson said. “All 10 guys made their blocks, and I just had to make one move.”

Three plays later, Pittman, a sophomore from Helen Cox High, kicked the game-winner.

“My mind was pretty clear,” Pittman said. “It’s one of those situations where as a kid growing up you kick footballs and you’re alone, you imagine it’s a game-winner or a big kick with pressure. When you get into a real game and have that chance, it’s easier, because you’ve done it so many times.”

The little doubt about the outcome that remained was wiped out moments later when Christian Allen forced and recovered a fumble by ASU quarterback Daniel Duhart.

“You had to know it would come down to the end with this football team,” said Odums, whose team has played seven games decided by eight or fewer points. “Man, what a fantastic game.”

The Hornets struck almost immediately as Myles Everett returned the opening kickoff 47 yards to the Jaguars’ 39, and four plays later Duhard threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to Jamel Johnson.

Southern responded nearly as quickly as six plays after the ensuing kickoff Dray Joseph threw a 68-yard touchdown pass to Jones.

ASU made its three touchdowns in three possessions when Duhart threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to DeMario Bell for a 14-7 lead midway through the first quarter.

“We just had to weather the storm,” Odums said.

The scoring pace slowed until Crowell scored on a 5-yard run midway through the second quarter.

The Jaguars offense got back on track just before halftime as Randall Menard made a diving, one-handed catch of a Joseph pass for a 30-yard touchdown that got Southern within 21-14 at halftime.

“I think that’s what kick-started things,” Odums said.

Joseph was just getting warmed up as he finished 26 of 45 for 427 yards and four touchdowns. Jones had 211 yards on five catches, and Joseph had completions to eight players.

“I told (Joseph) before the game, ‘We’re already going to the championship, so have some fun,’ ” Odums said. “I think that relaxed him.

“Without Doss (the Hornets) were able to play vanilla coverage, and that made his reads a lot easier. He didn’t stare down one guy, and he moved the ball around, which was great to see.”