Giving up nearly 300 rushing yards isn’t an ordinarily a winning recipe.
But Southern University found just the right mix to cook up another Southwestern Athletic Conference success story.
The Jaguars defense turned up the heat after a lackluster first half, limiting Alabama State to 78 second-half rushing yards while rallying for a 28-21 win at A.W. Mumford Stadium.
Alabama State’s final rushing total wasn’t ideal, but was it one that Southern coach Dawson Odums thought the Jaguars could overcome.
“Yes, considering 100 (yards) came almost on one play,” he said. “I think they were 6 of 17 for third down. They punted six times. That helped us.”
Alabama State running back Malcolm Cyrus, the SWAC’s leading rusher, came into Saturday’s game having already passed the 1,000-yard mark for the season. His 82-yard run in the final minute of the first half set up the go-ahead score for the Hornets, who led 14-12 at the break.
Cyrus had 179 yards in the first half but tweaked his right ankle early in the third quarter against an inspired Southern defense.
“Malcolm is as good as advertised,” Odums said. “He got loose on us for one run, but I thought for the most part we held him in check.”
Alabama State’s only second-half score came on a short field after a long kickoff return. After Southern responded with a 70-yard drive to retake the lead, Alabama State had three more possessions.
Alabama State was unable to pick up a single first down and was forced to punt each time. The Jaguars took over at midfield with 1:22 remainin, and ran out the clock to preserve their win.
“We just wanted to come out in the second half and play a little better,” SU linebacker Demetrius Carter said. “We gave up a lot of yards on the run due to busted coverages and busted run fits. We just tried to come out with a better mindset, play more physical — more our style of defense.”
The biggest message Odums had for his team was to go out and play the next play. It’s a motto Odums uses to keep his team focused on the task at hand, and it carried extra weight after Cyrus scored with 5 seconds left in the first half.
“That was a busted run fit,” Carter said. “We know. We knew we couldn’t do that. (Odums) just told us to play the next play. Its our motto on defense, offense and special teams: Once they get a big play, don’t let it affect the next play.”
There was no stopping a dialed-in Southern defense late in the fourth quarter. With nine minutes left, Dionte McDuffy and Carter came up with the big plays to force a Hornets punt.
McDuffy flattened running back Khalid Thomas on first down. On third down, Carter sacked quarterback Daniel Duhart for a 10-yard loss.
“He’s a hitter,” Carter said of McDuffy. “He’s got a big hat, and he brings bricks in his pockets every time he comes to work. Its always nice for him to get an interception, but we expect him to get those hits and make those type of plays.”
Alabama State had another series with six minutes left. Cyrus picked up 3 yards on first down, but Duhart followed with two incompletions as the drive stalled.
The Hornets’ final chance came with less than three minutes to play. On third down, defensive back Danny Johnson snuffed out a wide receiver screen throwing Wyndhall Archie for a 6-yard loss.
“There’s enough talent (in the SWAC) that any team can move the football,” Odums said. “You’ve got to take pride in keeping them out of the end zone. If you can hold teams in this conference to 21 or 28 points, you’re going to have a chance to win football games.”