Southern stands tall against Mississippi Valley

ITTA BENA, Miss. — Dawson Odums might flip on the film and see a slew of corrections flickering on the screen in his office Sunday.

But he was in a forgiving mood ahead of a ride back to the Bluff on Saturday.

Standing outside the cramped locker room of Rice-Totten Stadium, the Southern coach declared his tolerance was softened by the 17-7 victory against Mississippi Valley State, one where a defense that has had its troubles this season almost pitched a shutout and a timely passing game picked up a sluggish ground attack.

“When it’s all said and done, no matter how many you win by,” Odums said, “what we try and tell our guys (is), the ‘W’ is important.”

None of the 3,986 fans would award style points to Southern (2-2, 2-0 SWAC) or Valley (0-4, 0-2), though.

The Jaguars clung to a 3-0 lead, taken on a 22-yard field goal late in the second quarter, at the end of the third quarter behind an offense with just 126 yards to show for its efforts — a tally where 113 came on two long completions by quarterback Dray Joseph.

“You don’t want to have those guys close,” Joseph said of the feeling as the fourth quarter opened. “Those guys had us on our heels.”

The attack found its rhythm early in the fourth quarter, when Joseph hit Doss on a crossing pattern and watched his lanky wide receiver race another 44 yards to the Delta Devils’ 4-yard line for a 65-yard gain with 13:32 left to play. Two plays later, Lenard Tillery scored to push the lead to 10-0 with 12:51 to play, capping a six-play, 97-yard drive.

Five minutes later, Joseph and Doss linked up again, preying on the Delta Devils jumping hitch routes. Joseph pump-faked and Doss broke down the Southern sideline to haul in a 60-yard touchdown pass with 8:04 remaining to effectively put the game out of reach.

“Sooner or later,” said Doss, who had a game-high 10 catches for 164 yards, “we know one of our key players is going to make a big play.”

Before that, the unit bore little resemblance to the one that piled up 625 yards and 62 points against Prairie View A&M last week.

On the first series, Doss was wide open, but fell down as Joseph, who threw for 288 yards on 19-of-29 passing, lofted his throw. Two plays later, Joseph had to scramble 22 yards into his backfield to fall on a low, skittering shotgun snap.

Two possessions later, Willie Quinn lost 7 yards on a screen pass back to his own 13, followed by Joseph being dropped for a sack and having the ball punched loose before falling on it at the 6.

Meanwhile, the ground game mustered exactly 0 yards on 30 carries, led by Kylum Favorite’s 35 yards on four carries.

“It was an ugly victory,” Joseph said. “Hey, sometimes it be like that.”

Yet it was the often-torched Jaguars defense that stiffened and turned away the Delta Devils, allowing 225 yards — just 58 on the ground — and forcing two turnovers.

Patrick Durr led the Delta Devils with 32 yards on eight carries, while quarterback Patrick Ivy had 188 yards on 21-of-38 passing with a fourth-quarter interception that came as Valley tried to rally from a 17-0 hole. Julian Stafford added 72 yards on seven catches.

Far from shabby, too, for a unit patching over with four starters being in and out of the rotation in recent weeks and allowing a SWAC-worst 58.7 points and 648.7 yards per game. An Ivy touchdown run from 3 yards with 22 seconds left squelched a shutout, but Odums sounded like a man vindicated for his faith.

“I don’t worry about that,” Odums said. “It’s a long season. That’s something for the fans to talk about. I’d much rather give up 59 points and win. We regrouped today.”

De’Andre Woodland, stepping in for injured cornerback Virgil Williams, made the biggest impact Saturday, especially in a first half when Valley threatened three times in Jaguars territory.

On Valley’s second drive, he scooped up a forced fumble after linebacker Anthony Balancier jarred a catch loose from Durr and ran the ball back to the Jaguars’ 49 with eight minutes left in the first quarter. On the next Delta Devils possession, Woodland tackled holder Kenneth Dabney on a botched 41-yard fake field goal attempt with 2:45 left in the quarter.

“It’s big,” Woodland said. “It’s going to boost us up for next week. As a defense we can’t linger and allow big plays to happen.”

And the Delta Devils entered the red zone again two possessions later only to leave empty-handed when kicker Cherechen Galon pushed his 26-yard attempt with 6:16 remaining until halftime.

Meanwhile, Southern’s offense wheezed in the red zone, too.

Early in the second quarter, Greg Pittman missed a 41-yard field goal, a kick set up after a holding penalty knocked the Jaguars back from the 16-yard line after a 55-yard completion to Nico Tolbert put the Jaguars in position to capitalize.

“We moved the ball pretty well, but had miscommunication down in the red zone,” Joseph said. “Next week, we’re going to be better, watch the film and clean it up.”

Two possessions later, Southern clicked off three consecutive third-down conversions, including a 44-yard pick-up to the Valley 4-yard line, and seemed poised to capitalize before the half. Instead, Pittman knocked through a 22-yard field goal with 1:44 left in the half for a 3-0 lead — a position some might view as one borne out of luck.

Odums saw a different scenario trotting into the locker room.

“We looked at the glass from a different side,” Odums said. “We saw an opportunity.”