PINE BLUFF, Ark. — Southern probably isn’t going to make the postseason, but Saturday the Jaguars looked like a team that wants to make the most of what’s left of its season.
A week after a 41-point loss to Alcorn State crippled the Jaguars’ hope of winning a third consecutive Southwestern Athletic Conference West Division title, they bounced back emphatically against outmanned Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
Austin Howard threw four touchdown passes, six players scored touchdowns and the defense stymied the Golden Lions in a 57-24 rout in Golden Lion Stadium.
Southern (5-4, 5-2) plays its home finale against Alabama A&M next Saturday in A.W. Mumford Stadium. The Jaguars, though, slipped to the brink of mathematical elimination as Grambling and Prairie View both won Saturday to maintain two-game advantages over Southern in the West with two games to play. The Jaguars’ only path to the SWAC title game requires them to win their last two games and Grambling and Prairie View to both lose their final two.
UAPB (1-8, 0-7) hosts Grambling next Saturday.
“I know after a loss the guys always come out and try to play hard,” said Southern’s Lenard Tillery, who rushed for 111 yards and two touchdowns. “I just talked to them and let them know, ‘Hey, our destiny isn’t in our hands, but you still have to come out and play hard’ — and that’s what we did.”
The Jaguars, who had passed for fewer than 100 yards in each of their previous two games, took advantage of better weather and a worse defense to pass for 229 yards while racing to a 41-8 halftime lead.
Howard finished 15-of-21 for 229 yards before turning the game over to Deonte Shorts in the third quarter.
“We wanted to come out and show our teammates and our fans that we’re still a good team,” Howard said. “That was very important.”
Malcolm Crockett ran for one touchdown and caught a TD pass, and Shorts ran for one.
Javon Allen recovered a fumble to set up a Jaguars touchdown, and Dionte McDuffy ended a UAPB scoring threat with an end-zone interception.
Southern’s first three possessions ended with Howard throwing touchdown passes as he teamed with Bradley Coleman from 8 yards, Willie Quinn from 13 and Crockett from 37.
Shorts replaced Howard long enough to run 16 yards for a touchdown and, after Allen’s fumble recovery, Tillery ran 1 yard for another score on his way to his third consecutive 100-yard game.
“In my mind,” said UAPB’s leading tackler, linebacker Willie Duncan III, “(Tillery) is the best running back I’ve played against in this conference.”
Nico Talbert became the sixth Jaguars player to score a touchdown when he caught a 37-yard pass from Howard midway through the second quarter.
The Lions picked up Mike Jones’ fumble on a botched PAT and returned the ball 75 yards for two points, and they added a 1-yard touchdown run by Dante McDonald to send Southern into halftime with a 41-8 lead.
The Jaguars played it close to the vest in the second half, scoring on a 13-yard run by Tillery, a safety and a 4-yard run by Crockett. UAPB scored two late touchdowns to make the final margin smaller than it could have been.
The bounce-back win continued what coach Dawson Odums called “a roller coaster.” The Jaguars have won consecutive games just once this season, beating Mississippi Valley State and Jackson State in the second and third games.
“You’ve got another opportunity next week, and we’ll try to get ready for the next one,” Odums said. “It’s all about playing the next game. You win some, you lose some, but you just have to go on playing the next one.
“Our job is trying to be consistent in November. That’s what we talk about as a team. What’s in front of us is the next game, and we just want to play consistent football. If we do that, we like our chances against anybody.”
Southern, which gave up 484 rushing yards against Alcorn in last week’s 48-7 loss, allowed just 74 to the Lions and outgained them 483-188 in total yards.
“We knew we couldn’t get discouraged after last week,” McDuffy said. “We wanted to come out and put a complete game together. As a defense, we didn’t have a very good game last week. We wanted to make a statement.”
The Jaguars can clinch a winning season by beating Alabama A&M next week.
“We got beat like this last week,” Odums said. “You have to stay the course. You have to have a philosophy as a coach, have a plan, and stick to it. If you build a program the right way, you’ll be able to weather the storm.”