Southern aims to end its Space City struggles

The Southern football team’s recent trips to Houston haven’t been nearly as enjoyable as they could be.

Given all of the program’s connections to the city — a huge alumni base, its fertile recruiting ground and seven current players from the area — Friday’s visit to BBVA Compass Stadium for an 8 p.m. kickoff against Texas Southern should be reason to celebrate. History backs it up, too: Southern is 43-20-3 all-time against TSU and 51-27-2 against Prairie View.

But recent treks west down Interstate 10 have not gone well. The Jaguars have dropped their past five games — and six of seven — in Houston, including a 30-25 defeat to Texas Southern in coach Pete Richardson’s final game in 2009.

With Southern (4-4, 4-2) clinging to a half-game advantage over Prairie View (5-4, 4-3) in the SWAC’s West Division, the Jaguars would love to see their Houston slide come to an end against TSU (2-6, 2-5).

“Sooner or later, things are going to change,” said junior linebacker Detrane Lindsey, who went to Houston’s Booker T. Washington High School. “We’re going to go out and try and make sure we get the W.”

Over the past five seasons, Southern has lost in four different stadiums in the Houston area: Reliant Stadium (home of the NFL’s Texans), Blackshear Stadium (home to Prairie View), Delmar Stadium (a public high school stadium) and Robertson Stadium (where TSU used to play many of its home games). This is Southern’s first visit to BBVA Compass Stadium, which opened in 2012.

For senior defensive lineman Dion Palmer, a product of Houston’s Southeast Prep, Friday may be his last opportunity to win in his hometown.

“It’s real big to me,” he said.

Junior offensive lineman Zachary Brown, out of Missouri City, Texas, outlined the excitement of playing in a contest close to his heart.

“It’s always a fun thing to do to go back home and play in front of friends and family,” he said. “It’s like you represent for your whole city.”

Even when Southern was rolling and Prairie View and Texas Southern were struggling in the 1990s, there were occasional bizarre incidents when the teams met in Texas.

In September 1998 in Beaumont, the Southern and Prairie View bands brawled at halftime of an otherwise lackluster 37-7 Jaguars victory at Lamar’s Cardinal Stadium.

In October 1994, Southern held on for a 21-7 victory against Prairie View at Robertson Stadium. SU didn’t pull away until cornerback Jerry Wilson returned an interception 48 yards for a touchdown with 1:05 left, extending the nation’s longest losing streak to 40 games. PV’s skid, the longest in college football history, eventually stretched to 80 games.

And in November 1992, a 54-minute rain delay, with tornadoes in the area and winds that tilted the goal posts at Robertson Stadium, ended with Southern, a 46-point favorite, taking a 12-7 victory against Prairie View on Shawn Preston’s 7-yard TD run with 6:18 left.

Despite Friday’s contest being played just minutes from his hometown, Brown emphasized that this game is as important as any other SWAC contest, that it’s important because it’s the next game on the schedule.

“This game is no more important than any other,” he said. “We’re just trying to go out there, play our best and get a win.”

For senior safety Jeremy Coleman, Friday’s game has a little extra meaning.

“I used to go to (Texas Southern’s) track meets all the time when I was growing up,” he said. “Being able to play against them is just a great accomplishment.”

The Houston products on the roster are playing for their families and friends, but also for Southern and the chance to bring a conference title back to Baton Rouge. To pull that last goal off, they’ll have to win the conference title game Dec. 7 at Reliant Stadium.

“It’s important to win a SWAC title to us, but we’re not doing it for Houston,” Brown said. “We’re doing it for Baton Rouge and Jaguar Nation.”

A win Friday would go a long way toward Southern cementing its control of the West. Their magic number — any combination of Southern wins and Prairie View losses — would be sliced to one with a victory.

“Every little boy dreams about playing in conference championship games,” Coleman said. “Me being from Houston, it would fulfill that dream of playing for a championship in front of my family.”