Southern finished first and Prairie View was second in the Southwestern Athletic Conference West Division last season.
The Jaguars’ 62-59 victory against the Panthers in A.W. Mumford Stadium a year and a week ago made the difference.
These teams were again picked to finish first and second in the West, and their meeting at 6 p.m. Saturday at Blackshear Field could go a long way in determining this year’s standings. But with Southern 1-2 in nonconference play and Prairie View 0-2 overall and 0-1 in conference play, these teams just need a win.
The standings will sort themselves out along the way.
“Right now,” Jaguars coach Dawson Odums said, “both teams are probably searching for an identity.”
Southern sure is. The Jaguars have lost six starters and several reserves to academic ineligibility or pending certification. It has been a tumultuous time during pre-conference play, but Southern’s ready to begin defense of its SWAC championship.
“Everything we want to play for is still right in front of us,” Odums said. “That’s where our focus is.”
Southern went into last season’s meeting 0-2 after lopsided losses to Houston and Northwestern State. It looked like the Jaguars might be headed for another such setback in their SWAC opener as they fell behind 35-13 early in the third quarter.
But Southern came back from that deficit and three others in regulation to send the game into overtime, finally prevailing in the second extra period.
“I’m expecting a lot of intensity especially after the game last year,” Jaguars running back Lenard Tillery said. “I know they have a lot of hard feelings. At the same time we’re coming out and trying to repeat. It’s going to be a high intensity game.”
Tillery scored three TDs in a game in which the two teams combined for nearly 1,400 yards.
“We’ve got a good reference point from last year on what happens when you don’t put those guys away,” Panthers coach Heishma Northern said. “We know they’re going to keep playing until there’s no time left on the clock. We have to keep playing and match their intensity.”
The Jaguars are looking for at least a slightly more defense-oriented game than last year’s meeting, especially after last week’s matchup with Northwestern State.
Demons quarterback Zach Adkins completed a school-record 30 passes (in just 35 attempts), including a school-record 19 in a row. He tied a school record with four touchdown passes and Northwestern State had 21 first downs and held the ball for nearly 37 minutes.
The pass defense will again be challenged as three starting defensive backs — Kevin King, D’Andre Woodland and Dionte McDuffy — who were held out of last week’s game while awaiting academic reinstatement have yet to be cleared.
Adkins’ 30 completions yielded just 230 yards as he took advantage of soft coverage from Southern’s young replacements in the secondary.
“Last game they didn’t want give up big plays and gave up the underneath stuff,” sophomore linebacker Demetrius Carter said. “That shot us in the foot, but they’ll be fine. I did the same thing as a freshman, but as the season progressed I got more comfortable and settled in and did the job more effectively. I think they’ll do the same.”
Barring last-minute certification, the youthful group that couldn’t slow down Adkins will line up against Panthers senior quarterback Jerry Lovelocke, a preseason first-team All-SWAC selection. Lovelocke leads the SWAC with an average of 222.0 passing yards per game, but he’s not in the top 10 in passing efficiency, primarily because he’s completing just 39.7 percent of his passes.
Odums said he will continue to platoon Deonte Shorts and Austin Howard, who have both been inconsistent quarterbacks. He said the coaching staff has noted that Howard has four interceptions and Shorts none, though Shorts did lose a fumble that Northwestern State returned 9 yards for a TD last week.
That came on Southern’s third possession and Howard played the rest of the first half before Shorts returned and played much better in the second.
“It just takes me a little while to get settled in the game and get my mind ready to go,” Shorts said. “Now I know I need to focus better before the game and during the whole week of practice so I won’t have a slow start like I’ve been doing.”