The Southwestern Athletic Conference championship game between Southern and Alcorn State appears to be a pretty even matchup.
Both teams won their divisions outright, the Jaguars finishing 8-1 and the Braves finishing 7-2, and neither has any glaring weaknesses.
But when these teams met Sept. 27 in Lorman, Mississippi, the game was a mismatch in which Alcorn rolled to a 56-16 victory, Southern’s largest margin of defeat in a conference game in four years.
“They put a butt-whipping on us,” Southern defensive end Arthur Miley said.
The Braves offense was nearly unstoppable as it accumulated 682 yards — including 410 rushing, and 39 first downs — three times as many as the Jaguars had.
“They ran all over our defense,” Miley said. “They got to the edge of our defense. We know we’ve got to stop the run if we want to beat them.”
Alcorn averaged 8.3 yards per play and converted 12-of-16 third and fourth downs, including conversions when it needed 5 yards (twice), 6 yards (twice), 7 yards, 12 and 14.
“Whatever they did the first time,” Jaguars coach Dawson Odums said, “it didn’t go well for us. We’ve got to go to the drawing board and come up with something.”
The best thing Southern did was create turnovers, taking the ball away four times, but it totaled just seven points on those opportunities.
“When you look at the film, we made some plays,” Odums said. “We didn’t capitalize, but we made some plays. We forced some turnovers, but we didn’t capitalize and turn those turnovers into points.”
The Jaguars failed to maximize another opportunity when they settled for Greg Pittman’s 37-yard field goal after Willie Quinn had returned a kickoff 76 yards to the Braves 26.
Meanwhile, John Gibbs Jr. passed for 224 yards and a touchdown and ran for 34 yards and a touchdown. Anthony Williams III, who’s from Jeanerette, had 151 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries and Darry Ragsdale had 125 yards and one touchdown on 13 carries.
“That score is pretty embarrassing, and adds a lot of fuel to the fire,” linebacker Brian McCain said. “Any time a team puts up 56 points on you and you know that you’re better than the 56 points that they put up on you, we just have to go out there and make sure that you do a better job of executing each play.”
The Jaguars are a much different team now than they were then, especially defensively. It’s not just because they’ve won seven games in a row since that loss dropped them to 2-3. They were missing eight players from their two-deep in that game because of injuries and a lack of academic certification.
Four key defensive players — defensive backs Kevin King, D’Andre Woodland and Dionte McDuffy and lineman Jaylen Jordan — have returned and younger players such as freshman defensive backs Danny Johnson and Bryan Anderson have continued to mature.
“These guys have played a lot of football,” Odums said. “To have them on the sideline communicating gives you a sense of hope, so we’re grateful that those guys are back and you see the difference that those guys are making in our secondary.”
The offense had problems too in the first meeting, converting just 8-of-20 third and fourth downs and possessing the ball for just 24:45. Southern was shut out in the second half after trailing by just 12 points at halftime.
“We can look back at that game and learn from our mistakes,” offensive lineman Dewayne Houston said. “That always helps.”
The offense has also gotten key players healthy, such as wide receiver Mike Jones, tackle Reginald Redding and running backs Malcom Crockett, Tyre Bracken and Jamarcus Jarvis. Also freshman quarterback Austin Howard has steadily improved and kickoff returner Jaleel Richardson was cleared academically just days after the first meeting and has two kickoff returns for touchdowns since.
“It’s rare that you’re going to be able to hold this offense to 16 points,” Odums said. “That was one of our worst days as a team, and they played very well. We played with the guys that we had. I take my hat off to them. They handed it to us. We took our whipping and we went on about our business.
“Karma is something else. It’s like we know our team wasn’t at its strongest point when we played them early. We know we didn’t have the best team at that time, but at the end of the day we didn’t take anything away from them for that win. Now you get an opportunity when you’re at your best to play against a football team that no doubt beat you up and down the field.”
Follow Les East on Twitter: @EastAdvocate