Big plays by Southern’s senior football players provided the catalyst for an appropriately big 44-13 win over Mississippi Valley State on senior night at A.W. Mumford Stadium.
Linebacker Brian McCain, defensive lineman Arthur Miley and defensive backs Jaleel Richardson and De’Andre Woodland all helped put the spotlight on the Jaguars’ outgoing class.
McCain scored two touchdowns and also recorded a sack. Richardson pitched in with a touchdown, Miley recorded a sack and Woodland led the team with four tackles and two pass breakups.
“I think you just appreciate the fact that a senior is willing to give himself up,” Southern coach Dawson Odums said of McCain, who moved from fullback to linebacker this season. “That’s really what our team’s about — putting yourself aside so the team can be successful.
“Being a senior and closing out with touchdowns, I just think there’s no better feeling.”
Sophomore running back Lenard Tillery, who is on pace to finish the season with more than 1,000 yards rushing, also recognized the significance of senior night.
“It’s not even that they’re seniors. Really, they’re just my brothers,” Tillery said. “It’s sad, but it’s true: You get your four or five years, and you have to leave. I feel like every person on this team is my brother, and to see (the seniors) go, it’s going to be sad.”
The Jaguars initially picked up steam thanks to a group of seniors, who scored the first three touchdowns to help Southern erase a 13-0 first-quarter deficit.
The first score came early in the second quarter when McCain finished off a 10-play, 65-yard drive with a 1-yard run. Southern‘s starting middle linebacker, McCain also sees action at fullback in short-yardage situations.
The touchdown helped Southern get within 13-7 of Valley. It started a run of 44 unanswered points.
Woodland’s pass breakup helped Southern force a three-and-out on Valley’s next possession. On fourth down, the ball was snapped over punter Cherchen Galon’s head, and a scramble in the end zone ensued.
Richardson eventually scooped the ball up at the 2 and pushed into the end zone for the tying score. Richardson’s success in his home finale was a welcome turnaround from the start of the season when he missed playing time waiting on academic certification.
McCain was rewarded a second time with less than two minutes to go in the first half. After Willie Quinn’s 30-yard punt return gave SU a first down at the Valley 34, Southern went on to pick up a first-and-goal at the 3. From there, McCain carried twice, the last a 2-yard touchdown run.
“Two touchdowns and a sack. I couldn’t imagine it,” McCain said. “I think I got two touchdowns the first three years of my career. Two in one night is like a dream come true. You dream about that the day before a game, but to come out and put two in the box is just wonderful.”
Leading 23-13, Southern added another touchdown before halftime after freshman Kentavious Preston’s interception.
Southern began the game as though it would land a knockout punch in the first quarter. Miley sacked Valley’s Quantavius Peterson for an 18-yard loss on the game’s first play, and McCain sacked him again on second down.
A 47-yard pass helped the Delta Devils take a 6-0 lead — a score that surely brought back memories of Valley’s 6-0 win two years ago at A.W. Mumford Stadium. After a Southern fumble set up another short Valley scoring drive, the Jaguars came to life.
“I thought we started fast with two sacks, and then we gave up a third-and-30,” Odums said of Valley’s first drive.
“We had them backed up, and if we make a play there we’re probably up 7-0. It didn’t go as planned, but nobody panics.”
Including a group of seniors who have a chance to play for their second consecutive Southwestern Athletic Conference championship.