The Southern football team entered Saturday’s game at Alabama A&M having seen its shot at a Southwestern Athletic Conference title go out the window thanks to consecutive blowout losses.
It seemed unlikely that the Jaguars would regroup in time to hand the Bulldogs, part of a three-team race for the Eastern Division crown, a loss on their home field that would essentially ruin A&M’s shot at a league championship.
Yet they almost did.
Southern led by a touchdown in the fourth quarter after scoring 17 consecutive points, battled into overtime at Louis Crews Stadium, and eventually suffered a heart-breaking 24-23 loss decided by kicker Matthew Hill’s missed extra point.
“The way we lost the last two games, to still be able to rally the troops and come back and play one of the top teams in the conference all the way down to the wire, I take my hat off to the assistant coaches and the players for being ready to go,” Southern interim coach Dawson Odums said Monday during the SWAC’s weekly teleconference.
Odums said the Jaguars have already turned their focus to Saturday’s home finale against Alabama State (6-3, 6-2), which has beaten rival A&M and Prairie View in back-to-back weeks to join the Bulldogs atop the Eastern Division standings.
Already assured of a third straight losing season, Southern (3-6, 2-5) again will take the field looking to play the role of late-season spoiler.
But the Jaguars must find a way to remedy the issues they’ve had in closing close games.
The loss to A&M marked Southern’s third this season by six points or less, continuing a trend that began with four losses by 13 combined points last year.
The Jaguars had plenty of chances Saturday to keep their losing streak from reaching three games, but a number of missed opportunities allowed the Bulldogs to escape after A&M blew a 10-0 halftime lead.
Hill had two field goals blocked, including a 47-yard try with Southern looking to take a late two-possession lead.
Casey Narcisse failed to corral a would-be interception minutes later, leading to a Duane Mason touchdown pass that — combined with Chase Wilson’s extra point — sent the game to overtime.
In the extra period, Hill was wide right after Dray Joseph connected with Rashuan Allen from 8 yards out on the opening possession, leaving the lead 23-17 and setting the stage for A&M to seal the win with a 1-yard plunge by Mason and another Wilson extra point.
A&M converted a fourth-and-12 in overtime to keep hope alive.
“There’s no need to look back on it because you can’t do anything to change it,” Odums said.
“So you just move on to the next one if you have a next one, you learn from the past game and you try to move forward.”
Odums said the Jaguars came out of Saturday’s game free of injury. He had no news on backup quarterback J.P. Douglas, who was suspended from the team indefinitely last week.
After being outscored 82-16 in the first half during the three straight losses, Odums said he hopes the Jaguars can muster a faster start when they face Alabama State in their final home game.
A top-shelf running back will test the Southern defense for the second straight week.
The Jaguars held SWAC rushing leader Kaderius Lacey to 81 yards on 21 carries. Now comes Isaiah Crowell.
Crowell earned Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year recognition last year at Georgia after arriving as a five-star recruit. But he was kicked off the team in June after being arrested on felony weapons charges.
In his first season with the Hornets, Crowell ranks second to Lacey among SWAC rushers with 621 yards and leads the conference in scoring with 12 touchdowns.
Alabama State could also have a new look at quarterback.
Daniel Duhart sparked the Hornets off the bench in the Prairie View game, passing for 192 yards and two touchdowns to lead Alabama State back from a 14-0 first-quarter deficit. Usual starter Greg Jenkins left with an injury.
“He is a guy we know a little bit about because we had a chance to watch him on film,” Odums said of Duhart. “He’s a pretty good quarterback.”
Southern will have much less at stake than its opponent for the second straight week.
But having gone three games without a win, Odums said the Jaguars won’t lack for motivation.
“We just want to taste victory again,” he said. “That’s what we’re after.”