Jaguars lose inexplicably to Valley
After Southern’s last-gasp pass was ruled incomplete, senior left tackle Chris Browne lay flat on the ground near midfield.
He rose to a knee, helmet off, gazing at nothing in particular for a few moments before standing and slowly trudging off toward the locker room, lamenting a result few Jaguars could have imagined.
What should have been a joyous evening on The Bluff turned funeral in Southern’s 6-0 loss to Mississippi Valley State, a defeat that spoiled a once-promising home debut.
With a television audience in tow, Southern had the chance to open Southwestern Athletic Conference play with a bang, take the division lead and show off a little for the rest of the nation.
To hit those marks, all the Jaguars had to do was beat Valley, the same lowly Delta Devils they’d lost to only twice in the past 20 years, the same team that lost to Concordia to open this season, and the team that made a recent cameo on ESPN’s College GameDay for being the second-worst-ranked squad in all of Division I.
All of that set up for a romp in A.W. Mumford Stadium and on ESPNU, but if there ever was a game you’d like to hide from a national television audience, this was it.
In what can only be described as an incredibly sloppy performance, Southern squandered its big opportunity and may have put third-year coach Stump Mitchell’s job in jeopardy.
Mitchell is 6-18 and in the final year of his contract.
Southern Athletic Director William Broussard, speaking after the game Thursday, said the school had made no decision about Mitchell’s future but that the administration would discuss the issue Friday.
“No decision at this time,” Broussard said. “We’re just getting over the sting of the loss. I’m as shocked and upset about this loss as I’m sure the coaching staff and players are. The sun will come up tomorrow, and I’m sure the (Jaguar) Nation will be behind us, win, lose or draw.
“It would be rash to make a decision at this time.”
Southern gave up the game’s only touchdown after SU punter Chase Tuten dropped a snap near his own goal line.
It was only SU’s third loss to MVSU since 1991 and its first shutout loss since 1996 (176 games), leaving the Jaguars without a win in what seemed like the most sure-fire victory on its conference schedule.
“It’s disappointing,” cornerback Virgil Williams said. “We talked about first place all week, and we really controlled our own destiny in the SWAC, but we came out here and didn’t execute like we were supposed to.”
Thanks to Williams’ defense and kick returns, the Jaguars got their chances to pull off a late win.
SU held the Delta Devils to 196 yards and never let them into the red zone, but without playmaking receiver Charles Hawkins, who sat with a hamstring injury, the offense couldn’t get moving. They tallied only 197 yards, slightly better than Williams’ 144 return yards.
Southern crossed the MVSU 35-yard line three times in the fourth quarter but came away with no points after a fumble, interception and failed desperation heave.
That last gasp came after SU forced a punt with 2:20 left, and the Jaguars took over on their 42. They converted on two fourth downs to reach the 33-yard line with just seconds remaining, but a sack and three incomplete passes put the finishing touches on the Delta Devils’ win.
On the final play, SU lined up with three receivers to the left and Lee Doss to the right, and quarterback Dray Joseph’s pass to Doss was both too short and too far out of bounds to make a difference.
“The guy pressed him and Lee got behind him,” Mitchell said of the play. “Dray saw that, and unfortunately someone was underneath him when he threw the ball and he threw it a little wide.”
That was a final disappointment for Southern, which saw its previous two scoring chances blown on turnovers. On the first, Joseph had to leave the game for one play after his helmet came off, and backup J.P. Douglas scrambled and fumbled. The next came when Joseph had to toss up a fourth-down desperation heave that was intercepted.
The costliest turnover came in the first half, when Tuten lined up to punt with less than two minutes until halftime. He dropped the snap and MVSU recovered at the 3-yard line, punching it in one play later for the touchdown.
That was the biggest error in an exceptionally bad first half, not to say the second was much better.
Before halftime, Southern and Mississippi Valley State combined for 13 penalties and 10 punts.
SU gained just 57 yards and went 0-for-6 on third downs before the half. MVSU wasn’t much better, gaining 88 yards and punting five times before bringing the half to a poetic end by achieving the rare feat of two penalties on a kneel-down play.
Mistakes were easy to spot, as the Jaguars tallied six penalties for 50 yards in the first half (they had 57 yards of offense at that point), and racked up three straight holding penalties on the opening drive, two of which were declined.
“It hurts. It really does,” said running back Darrius Coleman, who had 70 total yards. “It was our mistakes. We should have had them. It was basically our fault. … We could have beaten them easily.”