MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Southern had its best all-around performance of the season when it defeated Alabama State 31-28 on Saturday in The New ASU Stadium.
Dray Joseph passed for more than 400 yards even though his No. 1 target, Lee Doss, didn’t play because of a one-game suspension for a an unspecified violation of team rules.
The defense allowed two quick touchdowns to start the game and a third midway through the second quarter, then dominated most of the rest of the way.
The special teams kicked in with Jaleel Patterson’s 64-yard kickoff return and Gregory Pittman’s last-minute, game-winning 43-yard field goal.
But what was most impressive of all is the way in which coach Dawson Odums and his staff seem to have an acute feel for the pulse of this team and the players’ willingness and ability to respond when prodded.
Odums challenged his team last week to show it could beat a team with a winning record as it prepared to play one of the better teams in the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
The Jaguars had been competitive in losing close games to Jackson State and Alcorn State, but they got over the hump in beating the Hornets on their home field.
Afterward, defensive end Arthur Miley talked about how the three units took turns picking up one another.
When the defense started slowly and allowed touchdown drives of 39, 74 and 69 yards that produced a 21-7 deficit, the offense put together a crucial touchdown drive late in the half to make the halftime score a more manageable 21-14.
When the offense squandered a scoring opportunity on the opening possession of the second half — Joseph threw an interception in the Alabama State end zone — the defense responded by shutting out the Hornets for the first 28½ minutes of the second half.
When the defense finally surrendered a tying touchdown with a little more than a minute left in the fourth quarter, Richardson said the kickoff return team let the defense know, “we’ve got your back.”
They did, as Richardson broke the return that set up the winning kick by Pittman, who redeemed himself after missing a 39-yarder in the first quarter.
It was a team effort, the most complete effort of the season, just what Odums had asked for.
As Odums reflected on the performance, he talked about win No. 6 guaranteeing the seniors a nonlosing record for their final regular season.
They will be honored in their home finale against Clark Atlanta on Saturday, and a win in that game would guarantee them a winning record regardless of what happens in the Bayou Classic and SWAC Championship Game.
So those three remaining games give these seniors and all the Jaguars plenty more to accomplish the rest of the way.
The players have talked about “winning the month of November” and that now extends to the first week of December for the SWAC title game against Jackson State.
Odums said he was “grateful” to be their head coach because of the competitiveness they have shown throughout the season.
He said if last year’s team would have been faced with the same challenges as the ones this team encountered Saturday, it “would have folded the tent.”
At the end of practice last Thursday, as Prairie View was in the early stages of what would become a 50-35 loss to Alcorn State that clinched the SWAC West for Southern, Odums said he told the team, “It was the worst Thursday practice we’ve had.”
But 24 hours later, “coming off the field it was all about focus,” he said.
That focus carried over into the Saturday’s game, after which Odums said if the Jaguars continue to build on their recent success, “Something special might be happening on The Bluffs.”