Southern holds off Florida A&M in Atlanta
“Our university has been through so much, and everyone is quick to talk about the negative things. But these young men deserve to have something positive said about them.” Dawson Odums, Southern interim coach
ATLANTA — Florida A&M quarterback Damien Fleming lofted the ball for the back corner of the end zone. To send the Atlanta Football Classic into overtime, all he needed was a pair of friendly hands.
Instead, the ball found nothing but Georgia Dome turf.
One kneel-down later, Southern’s sideline burst into celebration with chest-bumps and the now-weekly tradition of spraying interim coach Dawson Odums with water.
In the stands, the SU faithful screamed and cheered, and on the club level, a group of Jaguars fans twirled umbrellas and danced carefree to the sounds of the Human Jukebox.
Ah, that’s what two in a row feels like.
The Jaguar Nation might have forgotten that feeling in recent years, but after Southern’s 21-14 win against Florida A&M, the team has its first back-to-back wins since 2009, not to mention something that seemed inconceivable two weeks ago: momentum.
“I’m excited for these young men,” Odums said. “They haven’t felt this way in a long time. We have some seniors on this team that this will probably be their last time playing football — and what a way, what a journey. We’re not going to enjoy the ride; we’re going to enjoy the journey.”
Saturday was certainly a wild ride, as Southern (2-2) rode a late defensive touchdown and red-zone stand to dispatch FAMU (2-3) in front of 41,042.
The nonconference game won’t move the Jaguars any further up the Southwestern Athletic Conference standings, but it’s clear now that Southern is a team with some self-belief. That comes easier when you spend postgame periods hoisting trophies and posing for photos, as the Jaguars did in the Dome.
“I just think this is what we’re supposed to do,” quarterback Dray Joseph said. “We know what type of players we have in our locker room, and I just think we changed our whole mental aspect and the way we do things.”
Joseph turned in a very solid performance for the second week in a row, going 25 of 35 for 226 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. The majority of Southern’s offensive production came in the second half, when both teams sprung to life.
The opening half brought seven punts, three turnovers and a missed field goal, with the only points coming after the Rattlers recovered a Sylvester Nzekwe fumble on the SU 7-yard line and connected on a quick touchdown pass.
Joseph began the second half on a low note, being intercepted when he threw to a covered receiver who didn’t shield his defender away from the ball. But on the next drive, Joseph was a blistering 8-of-8 for 68 yards, adding a 10-yard run and finishing by hitting Nzekwe on a slant into the end zone.
The Rattlers responded with a 51-yard touchdown strike to Travis Harvey, but Joseph wasn’t to be outdone.
He was still hot at the start of the fourth quarter, when he connected with Lee Doss for 21 yards on third-and-6, then followed with another 12-yard strike to Doss. His throw of the day — and possibly the most well-executed play of Southern’s season — came from the 7-yard line.
Joseph took the snap, and seeing single coverage on Doss, immediately threw to the back pylon. The pass led Doss perfectly, and he made a lunging grab to tie the score at 14, setting the stage for Southern’s defense.
The big play came midway through the quarter, when linebacker Corry Roy stripped Fleming, recovered the fumble and raced to the 6-yard line. Roy then fumbled, but the loose ball was scooped up by teammate Daniel Brown, who fought his way in for a TD.
Punts by both teams left the Rattlers with one final chance to snatch the game — but after driving down to the SU 6, FAMU faced a fourth-and-3, and Fleming’s pass for Harvey was nowhere close.
It was far from a perfect day for Southern, which played a very sloppy first half, had 13 penalties for 85 yards and only managed 32 rushing yards. But ultimately, the Jaguars are just happy to have pulled out another rivalry win with all three areas of the game doing enough.
Southern is a half-game out of first in the SWAC West Division. There’s still a long season ahead with more improvement needed, but the looming tests should be easier to handle on a win streak.
“Our university has been through so much, and everyone is quick to talk about the negative things. But these young men deserve to have something positive said about them,” Odums said. “We have 24 hours to celebrate, and we’re going to spend 10 of them celebrating on the bus. It’s going to be a long ride, but we’re going to have fun celebrating.”