A blowout was brewing early in the second quarter at A.W. Mumford Stadium Saturday evening.
Alabama State scored touchdowns on four of its first five possessions, and held a 21-point lead with more than 13 minutes left in the first half. Undaunted, Southern responded with an eight-minute touchdown drive that changed momentum and paved the way for a second-half comeback.
The Southern comeback came up short when Dray Joseph’s short-armed a two-point pass for Rashaun Allen. Still, the Jaguars showed heart as they outscored the Hornets 23-3 over the final 2½ quarters of play before falling 31-30.
“You give up 28 points in the first half, and you give up three in the second half to the same team,” Southern coach Dawson Odums said. “We did a great job against them in the second half. I just hate that we dug such a big hole in the first half.”
The hole was 28-7 with 13:24 to go in the second quarter when Southern took over at the SU 8. Southern then used 14 plays and 7:59 as it methodically moved downfield. Joseph completed 10 of 11 passes on the drive, which was capped by Joseph’s 3-yard strike to Lee Doss.
“That drive enabled the defense to stay fresh and make stops when we needed them the most,” Joseph said. “There was a point when the score was 24-31, and they got the ball three times. We couldn’t score, but the defense kept stopping them. They kept us in the game until we finally came around.”
That point was in the fourth quarter when Alabama State had three possessions in Southern territory.
The first came after Kejuan Riley’s interception at midfield on the first play of the fourth quarter.
The Hornets moved to a first at the SU 29, but the Jaguars moved them back. A fourth-down penalty pushed the Hornets out of field-goal range forcing a punt.
Malcolm Cyrus’ 17-yard punt return gave the Hornets a first at the SU 43 on their next series. Jaguars’ linebacker Anthony Balancier threw Hornets running back Isaiah Crowell for a 4-yard loss on 3rd-and-1 to end the threat.
“When they were going no huddle, if affected us, but as the game went on we caught up with their tempo,” Balancier said.
“If the game comes down to the fourth quarter, the defense is going to do whatever it takes to win the game.”
Alabama State’s final possession started at the SU 28 after punter Chase Tuten, under a heavy rush, instead threw a pass to Corry Roy. The Hornets picked up two yards on three downs, and Bobby Wenzig’s 43-yard field goal try on fourth down was off the mark.
“You could tell that moving the ball in the second half allowed our defense to make plays because they stayed fresh,” Joseph said.
Southern’s final drive began at its own 26 with 3:05 left. The Jaguars quickly moved into Hornets territory, and then overcame a holding before Joseph found Doss for his second touchdown of the game.
With that, Southern was poised to complete an improbable comeback. Instead, Joseph’s two-point conversion pass for Rashaun Allen fell incomplete, and Southern was left to lament another close loss.
“We made the plays to get back in the game,” Odums said. “People will probably say, well, last week you played for overtime, and this week you go for the win. It’s a gut (feeling). Its all about the gut.”
The Southwestern Athletic Conference loss was Southern’s fourth of the season by six points or less, and their second one-point loss in as many weeks.
“I told the guys after the game hold your heads high,” Odums said. “The effort you gave and the fight you showed is the reason we know this program is going in the right direction.”