Southern special-teams units falter, then flourish in win over Texas Southern _lowres

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- Southern's Willie Quinn celebrates after a 58-yard kickoff return against Texas Southern on Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014, at A.W. Mumford Stadium.

Southern won its fifth consecutive game by beating Texas Southern 30-20 on Saturday night in A.W. Mumford Stadium, but it wasn’t exactly business as usual for the Jaguars.

They used a 12-yard touchdown run by tackle Reginald Redding to help build a quick 14-point lead, then had to overcome a series of special-teams mishaps that helped the Tigers take the lead.

Ultimately things settled down, and Lenard Tillery rushed for 125 yards and a touchdown as the Jaguars defense pitched a second-half shutout.

If Southern, 7-3 and 6-1 in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, defeats Mississippi Valley State in its home final next Saturday, it will guarantee a showdown for the West Division title in the Bayou Classic against Grambling on Nov. 29 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. TSU is 5-5 and 3-5 after losing its fourth straight.

“Everybody understands what we’re playing for,” Jaguars coach Dawson Odums said. “You’re starting to see how we can play when we get all the pieces together and practice with the same guys week in and week out. We still haven’t played that game where you say, ‘Wow!’ But we’re gaining on it, and I really think we’re going to find it before it’s too late.”

The Jaguars held the Tigers to 220 yards, including 66 in the second half. They allowed just 99 yards on 34 rushes and limited JSU to 11 first downs.

“Thirty-four rushing attempts for 99 yards is not a bad job,” linebacker Brian McCain said. “As a defense, you always want to hold the opponent to under 100 yards rushing. That was an outstanding job by the defense.”

Southern led 21-20 at halftime, and the defense came up with a big play on TSU’s first possession of the second half. Danny Johnson intercepted a pass from Homer Causey, giving the Jaguars the ball at the Tigers 42. That led to Greg Pittman’s career-long 46-yard field goal.

TSU forced a turnover for its first second-half scoring opportunity as Jarius Moore recovered Tyre Bracken’s fumble at the Southern 25. But a holding penalty pushed the Tigers back, and they turned the ball over on downs after an incompletion on fourth-and-17.

Tillery’s 8-yard touchdown run 59 seconds into the fourth quarter upped the lead to 30-20.

The Jaguars had their worst rushing game of the season last week, gaining just 86 yards — 28 by Tillery — in a 28-21 victory against Alabama State.

“We didn’t have a great game running the ball last week,” Tillery said. “This week the emphasis was, we’re going to run the ball. The offensive line came to me and said, ‘We’re going to open holes for you; all you have to do is go out there and play.’ That’s what they did.”

Southern jumped to a quick 14-0 lead and looked like it might make short work of TSU.

The Jaguars forced a three-and-out on the game’s first possession, then drove to Bracken’s 1-yard touchdown.

“I think we did a really good job of setting the tone early,” Odums said.

After another punt, they drove 86 yards to another touchdown. Austin Howard fumbled on a keeper, and Redding picked up the ball at the 12 and ran into the end zone.

“Talk about a dream come true,” Odums said. “It was a blessing for us to score, but for an offensive lineman to score, that never happens. Any old offensive lineman sitting in the stands who witnessed that had to feel good about that young man scoring a touchdown.”

The Tigers were trying to punt the ball back to the Jaguars on fourth-and-1 from the TSU 32 when Cory Carter mishandled the snap. He was about to get tackled when he flipped the ball to Gary Holmes for a 4-yard gain. That sparked the offense, and Jimmy Potepa ran 34 yards for a touchdown.

The fourth-down conversion not only jump-started the Tigers offense but started a series of big plays on special teams that temporarily turned the momentum.

On the ensuing kickoff, TSU hit a pop-up, and the ball landed between two sets on tentative Southern blockers as the Tigers fell on the ball at the Jaguars 20. JSU couldn’t get a first down, and Chris Medina kicked a 29-yard field goal.

Southern went three-and-out, and Holmes broke through to block Paul Randle Soden’s punt. Femi Adekeye picked up the ball and ran 22 yards for a touchdown and a 17-14 TSU lead.

The Jaguars special teams redeemed themselves when Willie Quinn returned the ensuing kickoff 58 yards to the TSU 38. Seven plays later, Howard ran 9 yards for a touchdown that put the Jaguars back on top.

Medina’s 27-yard field goal with 1:20 left cut Southern’s lead to 21-20 at halftime.