NORMAL, Ala. — The Southern University defense of the past two weeks didn’t show up Saturday afternoon at Louis Crews Stadium.
And that’s a big reason why the Jaguars came oh-so-close to upsetting host and Southwestern Athletic Conference East co-leader Alabama A&M .
After surrendering more than a half-mile of territory (1,155 yards) in blowout losses to Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Prairie View, a much healthier unit went from beleaguered to big-league in a hurry, allowing only 214 yards. It just so happened that a good chunk of them were given up at the most inopportune time.
The Bulldogs, who’d had just one first down in five second-half possessions up to that point, marched 73 yards in 12 plays for the game-tying touchdown with 30 seconds to play in regulation. Needing to make one more stop in overtime to seal the victory, Southern couldn’t come through, as Alabama A&M wide receiver Terrance Pride caught a pass on the outside and slithered between two defenders for a 13-yard gain on fourth-and-11.
Moments later, the Bulldogs had a touchdown and successful extra point, handing the Jaguars a 24-23 loss.
“We didn’t make the plays to get off the field, and they converted. They’re a good football team,” said Southern interim coach Dawson Odums.
Breakdowns on special teams placed the Southern defense in tenuous situations throughout the first half. A fake punt gone awry gave the Bulldogs the ball at the Jaguars 44, leading to an early field goal. A 27-yard punt after Southern’s next possession set Alabama A&M up near midfield.
Kaderius Lacey eventually rumbleed into the end zone from 3 yards out on the second play of the second quarter, handing the Bulldogs a 10-0 lead .
But from that moment, until late in the game, the Jaguars gave up little ground to Lacey or anyone else associated with Alabama A&M.
“We had a good game plan,” SU linebacker Anthony Balancier said. “Stop the run and force them to throw the ball. They don’t like passing the ball that much.”
That proved to be true, as Bulldogs quarterback Deaunte Mason’s recent struggles continued. After getting torched in recent weeks, the Jaguars limited the senior to 96 yards through the air and had the two interceptions.
“We had some other drops, too, and had some other chances to get off the field,” Odums said. “But overall, we gave great effort and had a chance to win the football game.
“Everybody looks at those last two games, but we’ve played pretty good defense. Our backs were against the wall, and it took us a while to figure it out. We did a great job for the most part.”
It appeared as though that would be good enough. The offense came alive in the second half, scoring 17 unanswered points. Balancier’s interception midway through the fourth quarter gave Southern a good chance to add an insurance score.
But a missed field goal was soon followed by Alabama A&M’s longest drive of the game, which sent the game into overtime.
The Jaguars appeared to have regained the momentum in the extra period, converting a key pass on third-and-10 and scoring on an 8-yard pass from Dray Joseph to Rashaun Allen. They followed that by sacking Mason for a 9-yard loss on the Bulldogs’ second play.
But then Mason found Pride, who stretched his body and the ball out on the fateful fourth-down play, which put the ball at the Southern 3. Mason snuck into the end zone from a yard out two plays later.
“It hurts, but it’s just football,” Balancier said of the loss. “We just have to pick up and be ready to go next week.”
Odums, though, figures to see that fourth-down play in his dreams for the foreseeable future.
“You make that play, and the game’s over,” he said, shaking his head. “We reached and didn’t make the tackle. You have to make that play.”