On the day that Southern officially became incapable of winning its third consecutive Southwestern Athletic Conference West Division championship, the Jaguars still had plenty to celebrate.
They clinched their third consecutive winning season Saturday by blasting Alabama A&M 46-7 in A.W. Mumford Stadium, giving 23 seniors a victory in their final home game. They avoided a losing season at home by evening their record at Mumford at 2-2.
Southern is 6-4 overall and 6-2 in SWAC play heading into an open date before it faces Grambling in its season finale Nov. 28 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Along the way, Lenard Tillery became the school’s all-time leading rusher as the Jaguars dropped the Bulldogs to 2-7 and 2-5.
“To finish with a win at A.W. Mumford is big for us,” Tillery said. “The fact that it happened on senior night is like something out of a storybook.”
Tillery’s night was one for the record books. He rushed for 127 yards, and his career total of 3,050 surpasses the 3,015 that Steve Wofford gained from 1996-98. He broke Wofford’s record on a 39-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
The junior from McKinley High School had his fifth consecutive 100-yard game and became the first Jaguars player since Wofford in 1997-98 to have consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.
Austin Howard completed 21 of 27 passes for 312 yards and two touchdowns and ran for two more scores as Southern gained 631 yards.
“On offense we showed a little bit of everything,” Howard said. “We showed we can have a balanced offense when we execute the game plan like we did tonight.”
The Jaguars’ division title hopes had all but vanished when they suffered a second SWAC loss — 48-7 to Alcorn State two weeks ago — but the end of their reign in the West didn’t become official until Grambling improved to 8-0 with a 49-31 victory Saturday at Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
That game went final while Southern was at halftime, by which time Tillery already had the record and the Jaguars had the game well in hand with a 39-7 lead.
“It was a group effort,” senior nose guard Gabe Echols said. “The young guys were really playing for the seniors. We got a winning season, and any college football player wants a winning season.”
Coach Dawson Odums started several seniors who don’t normally start in recognition of their final home game.
One of them, running back Malcolm Crockett, scored on a 26-yard run to complete the game’s first possession. He finished with 100 yards and two touchdowns.
On the Jaguars’ second possession, Howard kept for a 4-yard touchdown and a 13-0 lead.
A bad snap on a punt enabled A&M to recover the ball at the Southern 24, leading to a an 11-yard touchdown pass from Damion May to Johnathan Dorsey, cutting the Jaguars’ lead to 13-7 on the first play of the second quarter.
Southern answered on the ensuing possession as Howard threw a 23-yard touchdown to Randall Menard.
Crockett’s 3-yard touchdown, Tillery’s record-setter and Howard’s 21-yard scoring pass to Menard sent the Jaguars into halftime with a commanding lead.
Howard ran 1 yard for a touchdown on Southern’s first possession of the third quarter, then went to the bench for the rest of the night as Deonte Shorts replaced him and Jarrad Hayes finished.
The Jaguars held A&M to 110 yards, including 73 rushing. A&M completed 4 of 12 passes for 37 yards.
“When everybody comes to play hard,” senior linebacker Daniel Brown said, “that’s what we can do as a defense.”
Southern had its second consecutive lopsided win, this one coming a week after a 57-24 thrashing of Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
Though the Jaguars won’t play into December for the first time in three years, they did win their 11th consecutive game in November.
“We’ve talked about being consistent,” Odums said. “This is the first time we’ve won two in a row since early September. We’re playing really well, and usually this time of year we do play well.”
Follow Les East on Twitter: @EastAdvocate.