Southern prepared all week knowing that a victory against Mississippi Valley State would enable it to play for the Southwestern Athletic Conference West Division title in two weeks.
Then, less than an hour before kickoff, the Jaguars had already been assured of that title opportunity when division-leading Grambling lost to Alabama State. That outcome guaranteed that the winner of the Southern-Grambling game in the Bayou Classic on Nov. 29 in New Orleans will win the West and face East Division champ Alcorn State for the league title.
Still, the Jaguars took the field in A.W. Mumford Stadium determined to extend their five-game winning streak and continue building momentum for the Bayou Classic.
After falling behind by 13 against the team with the worst record in the SWAC, Southern used a 30-point second-quarter blitz to roll to a 44-13 victory.
“We didn’t really concern ourselves with them,” Odums said of Grambling, which lost 37-23. “It didn’t matter what happened to them. At the end of the day, we needed to win. We had to take care of our business.”
Southern is 8-3 and 7-1, tied with Grambling (7-4, 7-1) going into an open date. Valley lost its fourth straight and finished its season 2-9 and 1-8.
“Any time you have a bye week, it’s tough to prepare after a loss,” Odums said. “You have to dwell on the loss. When you get a win, you have energy and you’re focused. You know what you’ve got to do to get ready, and I don’t think it will take much to get them ready for this one.”
Southern’s 30-13 halftime lead grew to 37-13 on the opening possession of the third quarter when Deonte Shorts ran 9 yards for a touchdown. Shorts finished the scoring with a 4-yard touchdown run with 5:10 left.
“Nobody panicked,” Odums said of the deficit. “It was early in the game, and there were a lot plays left to be made. We did a good job of focusing in, executing and putting points on board.”
Nine Jaguars rushed the football as the team had 56 carries for 321 yards, both season highs against NCAA competition. Southern had just 19 pass attempts and nine completions for 123 yards, all the second-lowest totals of the season.
“When you’re getting 5, 6, 7 yards a pop,” Odums said, “why not continue to run? We were having success with it, so we kept on doing it.”
The Southern defense allowed just 211 yards, its lowest total against NCAA competition this season, and 75 came on the first possession of the game.
Southern sacked Quantavius Peterson on the first two plays of the game, but on third-and-29 it yielded a 47-yard completion to Keenan Daniels. That triggered a drive that ended with Peterson running 9 yards for a touchdown and a 6-0 Valley lead.
The Jaguars were approaching midfield when Lenard Tillery fumbled and defensive end Khalil Young picked up the ball and ran 32 yards to the Jaguars 12. On third-and-7, Peterson threw a 9-yard touchdown to Joshua Banks for a 13-0 lead.
“A lot of people think you’re just going to run over a 2-8 team,” said Tillery, who bounced back from the fumble to run for 162 yards and a touchdown. “That’s what lets them score 13 first-quarter points. That’s when we saw they weren’t a pushover. They came to play. When we saw that we took it to another level, a level we know we can play at.”
Southern responded with a 65-yard drive that ended with Brian McCain running 1 yard for a touchdown.
On the ensuing possession, the Delta Devils snapped the ball over punter Cherchen Galon’s head into the end zone. Galon could have fallen on the ball for a safety, but he tried to pick it up and kick it and lost control. Jaleel Richardson recovered for a touchdown and a 13-13 tie.
The Jaguars drove to a third-and-2 at the Valley 4, and Austin Howard fumbled on a handoff and fell on the ball. Greg Pittman kicked a 27-yard field goal for a 16-13 lead.
McCain’s 2-yard touchdown run pushed the lead to 23-13. Kentavious Preston’s interception set up Tillery’s 12-yard touchdown to complete the second-quarter blitz 12 seconds before halftime.
“After 13-0, it was just lights out,” McCain said. “We accomplished our goal. Now it’s on to bigger things.
“It’s crunch time. We’ve got two weeks to focus up and put it all in the tank. This is the game that matters.”
Follow Les East on Twitter: @EastAdvocate