It was almost a rout. It became a game that was almost too close for comfort.
Southern rallied for a 30-20 win over Texas Southern on Saturday night at A.W. Mumford Stadium, but a series of special-teams blunders caused the Jaguars to lose their grip after starting the game in dominant fashion. Fittingly, the special-teams units redeemed themselves with key plays to turn the tide back for good.
“I thought we did a good job setting the tone early,” Southern coach Dawson Odums said. “They had a couple of plays you don’t normally see. They had a bad snap on a punt and threw the ball. Then they had a blocked punt where the timing was bad. I really thought defensively, we played pretty well to give us a chance to win the game.”
It appeared that an easy win might be in the making for Southern as the Jaguars took a 14-0 lead late in the first quarter. Instead, when it appeared the Southern defense was about to force its third consecutive three-and-out, fate stepped in.
Tigers punter Cory Carter delivered the first momentum-shifting play after bobbling the snap on fourth-and-1 at the TSU 30.
Carter took off running and was hit well behind the line of scrimmage before flipping a desperation pass to Gary Holmes, the upback on the play.
Holmes picked up 5 yards, and TSU went on to complete a 77-yard drive to pull within 14-7 of Southern.
On the ensuing kickoff — perhaps out of respect for Southern’s top-rated kickoff return numbers, or maybe as a surprise — the Tigers used a pop-up kick. It caught Southern off guard, and Darveion Trahan recovered at the SU 21.
TSU had a first-and-goal at the SU 10 before settling for Eric Medina’s 29-yard field goal. Just like that, TSU was down only 14-10 — and for Southern, things got worse before they got better.
After TSU forced the Jaguars into punt formation on the next series, Holmes came up big again as he blocked Paul Randle Soden’s kick. Adefemi Adekeye scooped up the loose ball and returned 22 yards for the go-ahead score.
Medina’s extra point gave had TSU in the lead 17-14 with 10:27 left in the half.
“It was unfortunate that we gave up those points,” Southern running back Lenard Tillery said. “But in a way it was fortunate for us so we could get serious and come out and play our real game.”
For the Jaguars, playing their real game started on the next kickoff. Willie Quinn fielded it at the SU 4 and ran it back to the TSU 38, setting up a short scoring drive.
Tillery, who had a game-high 125 rushing yards, carried four times in the series, which was capped by Austin Howard’s 9-yard touchdown run.
In the second half, Southern’s defense stepped up big, shutting out the Tigers while the offense scored 10 points to put the game out of reach.
The first of those points came on another big special-teams play, this time from kicker Greg Pittman, whose career-best 46-yard field goal put Southern on top 24-20 midway through the third.
“We had a couple of blunders on special teams, but we’ve been working on it,” Odums said. “It’s getting better. We kicked the ball better. We need to clean up some things, and that’s what practice is for.”