Southern brings SWAC title back to Baton Rouge

HOUSTON — The Southern football team took a victory lap around Reliant Stadium, slapping hands with their jubilant fans.

Quarterback Dray Joseph stopped and posed for pictures.

Linebacker Anthony Balancier hoisted the Southwestern Athletic Conference Championship trophy.

Wide receiver Lee Doss danced while coach Dawson Odums toweled off after a celebratory dousing at the hands of his players.

The rest of the squad scrambled into formation to pose for a team photo to commemorate their 34-27, double-overtime victory against Jackson State in the SWAC title game Saturday.

The Jaguars had avenged a 19-14 regular-season loss that gnawed at them for two months. They had won Southern’s first SWAC championship in 10 years, concluding an improbable but thoroughly legitimate turnaround after three consecutive losing seasons.

“We brought the championship back to Baton Rouge,” Doss said moments after his college career ended. “That’s going to last a lifetime.”

It was appropriate that Southern (9-4) had to work overtime to win the title after playing three overtime games during the regular season.

“When we went to overtime, we didn’t panic,” Odums said after the Tigers (8-4) extended the game on Ryan Deising’s 37-yard field goal as time expired in the fourth quarter.

The Jaguars won the toss and chose to play defense first. On the third play, Balancier intercepted JSU quarterback Clayton Moore, putting Southern in position to win.

But on fourth-and-7 from the 22, Gregory Pittman’s 39-yard field goal was blocked by JSU’s Canard Brown, extending Southern’s first trip to the title game in nine years and JSU’s second straight.

On the next possession, Doss split wide left, expecting to run an out route. He looked back at Joseph, who earlier in the game set the school record for career touchdown passes, and the quarterback nodded his head, meaning a check-off to a wheel route. Doss got open just inside the pylon and snared Joseph’s 73rd and final scoring pass as a Jaguar.

JSU needed a touchdown to force a third overtime. On fourth-and-goal from the 5, Moore rolled right to buy time and found a wide-open Tommy Gooden at the right sideline in the end zone, but Gooden drifted out of bounds before grabbing the pass.

Incomplete. Game over.

“I had inside coverage and I looked to the side and I saw his feet weren’t (in bounds),” Balancier said. “I said, ‘We won this game.’ ”

A brief official review of the play confirmed it, and the celebration began.

“The biggest thing was we remained poised,” Joseph said.

Everyone’s poise was tested.

Southern took a 13-3 lead late in the second quarter, but JSU drove 73 yards in 48 seconds to pull within three points at halftime.

“It could have been worse,” Tigers coach Rich Comegy said. “Just being down three points was something we could overcome.”

Midway through the third quarter, Omar Cook intercepted Moore at the JSU 40. Three plays later, Joseph threw a 35-yard touchdown to Willie Quinn for a 20-10 lead.

The Tigers responded with a 60-yard touchdown drive as Moore’s 28-yard touchdown pass to Zach Pendeleton cut the lead to three.

On the next play from scrimmage, JSU took its first lead when Antonio Sutton picked up Lenard Tillery’s fumble and ran 11 yards for a touchdown. That gave the Tigers a 24-20 lead entering the fourth quarter.

Southern drove 99 yards on 20 plays, holding the ball for 9 minutes and 55 seconds to regain the lead on Darrius Coleman’s 1-yard run with 4:57 left.

“Every Wednesday in practice, we go 90 yards in two minutes,” Odums said. “Ten minutes is a long time for us to go (99 yards).”

On the drive, the Jaguars converted three third downs and a fourth down.

“We have a lot of faith,” said Quinn, who had seven catches for 142 yards and two touchdowns, including Joseph’s record-breaker.

The Jaguars then forced a three-and-out, but JSU did the same. The Tigers got the ball at their 10 with 2:20 remaining and two timeouts.

A personal foul penalty on Southern’s Javon Allen preceded four consecutive completions by Moore for 46 yards. Moore ran three times for 18 yards, and a facemask penalty on Arthur Miley put JSU on the Jaguars 5 with 26 seconds left.

Moore fell on his own fumble at the 11, and the Tigers called their final timeout. Christian Allen sacked Moore, who scrambled to get his team lined up and spiked the ball with 1 second left.

JSU lined up for Deising’s 37-yard field goal, which he hooked wide left, but the ball was snapped a moment after Odums called a timeout.

“We wanted to add a little pressure,” he said.

It didn’t work: Deising’s second attempt was good, sending the game to overtime.

“It could have been over, but we got another chance,” Comegy said. “I was thinking, ‘It must be meant for us to win this game.’ ”

It wasn’t.

Not against a team that turned its season around after an 0-2 start.

Not against a team that won two of its three previous overtime games, including a pair in double OT.

Not against a team that had won six of seven games since losing the first meeting with JSU when Joseph missed an open receiver in the end zone on fourth down with a minute left.

Joseph said he remembered “everything negative thing that was said” about him after that game and “used it as fuel.”

Odums invoked that ending Friday night when he told his team that the roles would be reversed this time and the Tigers would be forced to try to make a play against his defense to win the game.

“I need to go play the lottery,” Odums said. “It worked out just the same way. Fortunately for us, (Gooden) was out of bounds. And unfortunately for them, he was out of bounds — and we were able to celebrate.”