ITTA BENA, Miss. — In a span of five days, Southern went from undersized sparring partner for an FBS opponent to its more familiar role as Southwestern Athletic Conference heavyweight.
The Jaguars roared back from a 62-15 season-opening loss at Louisiana Tech last Saturday to blast Mississippi Valley State 50-13 in the conference opener for both teams Thursday night in Rice-Totten Stadium.
Southern began its quest for a third consecutive SWAC West division title by battering the Delta Devils in all three phases in taking a 33-0 lead after a quarter and a half.
“It’s always great when you bounce back with a win,” Jaguars coach Dawson Odums said. “Tonight we hade the right energy and passion. We challenged them all week and they executed better. We did what we wanted to do and that was to win and get better from week one to week two.”
Lenard Tillery ran for touchdowns of 10 and 14 yards on the Jaguars’ first two possessions on his way to gaining 91 yards on 15 carries.
“All week we talked about running the ball to start off,” Tillery said. “We talked about getting off to a good start and we did.”
Then, Willie Quinn followed his 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Louisiana Tech with a 39-yard punt return for a touchdown.
And he was just getting started.
Austin Howard threw his first touchdown pass of the season, lofting a perfect 28-yard toss to Nico Talbert, then Quinn topped him with an 89-yarder to Randall Menard.
Just like that, Southern was cruising early just as it had been sinking early when Tech grabbed a 24-0 lead.
Now, the Jaguars get an extra couple of days to get ready for their home opener Sept. 19 against Jackson State at Mumford Stadium.
“We’re going to come back Sunday and work hard and try and do it again,” said Quinn, who had 241 all-purpose yards.
“The way we look at it, we have nine playoff games,” Tillery said. “If we win all nine of our conference games we know we’re going to the (SWAC) championship game.”
Valley suffered its second consecutive blowout, having lost at New Mexico 66-0 in its season opener.
Howard was an efficient 10-of-14 for 150 yards before giving way to Deonte Shorts late in the third quarter. Howard did not throw an interception after throwing two in the opener.
His defense came up with three interceptions as two newcomers — junior safety Nicholas McDonald and freshman cornerback Demerio Houston — had one each and wide receiver Justin Morgan, who just started practicing at cornerback this week, had one.
“It was very important that (the defense) played better this week because we didn’t execute last week,” said linebacker Kentavious Preston, one of three new starters on the defense this week. “Some people thought (last week) was what we would be like the whole season, but tonight we showed that we can be a real good defense.”
Valley’s offense showed some life after Dontrinell Scott replaced Quantavius Peterson at quarterback in the second quarter. His ability to scramble against the Southern pass rush, which sacked Peterson three times in the Devils’ first five plays, gave his team a glimmer of hope.
Scott threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Terrence Barron to cut the lead to 33-7 at halftime and he teamed with Barron for a 34-yard touchdown on the first possession of the third quarter.
But the Devils made the mistake of sending the ensuing kickoff in Quinn’s direction and he ran 90 yards for a doubt-removing touchdown.
“I wouldn’t have kicked it to him,” Tillery said.
Greg Pittman kicked a 36-yard field goal and Shorts’ 1-yard touchdown run made it 50-13 entering the fourth quarter.
That left plenty of time for Odums to give back-ups much-needed experience and starters much-needed rest during the Jaguars’ second road game in less than a week.
In the end, Valley held possessed the ball long than Southern did, had five more first downs and gained just nine fewer yards.
But most of that happened after the Jaguars opening salvo had settled things.
Southern was plus-three in turnovers and allowed just one score in three Devils trips to the red zone. The Jaguars scored on all four of their red-zone visits.
“We were kind of thin (on defense) and we were running out of cornerbacks,” Odums said. “We just moved some guys around and it worked out well.”
Follow Les East on Twitter @EastAdvocate