Southern’s offensive balance had been key in the Jaguars winning three consecutive games going into their matchup with Alabama State.
But Southern couldn’t find much of a running game Saturday and had to turn to its passing game.
Austin Howard’s ability to connect with Reggie Travis and Willie Quinn made up for the lack of a running game as the one-dimensional Jaguars held off the Hornets 28-21 in cold and windy A.W. Mumford Stadium.
Howard completed 25 of 47 passes for 291 yards and two touchdowns, one each to Travis and Quinn, who each had nine catches, Travis finished with 153 yards, and Quinn had 100.
“We knew they were going to stack the box on us,” Travis said. “We talked all week, saying we’re going to throw it around, we’re going to throw it around. The plan worked.”
Though the running game netted just 86 yards, Howard managed 55 of them, including a 9-yard touchdown that broke a 21-21 tie with 9:20 left.
Southern won its fourth consecutive game to improve to 6-3 and 5-1 in the Southwestern Athletic Conference heading into its home game against Texas Southern next Saturday.
Malcolm Cyrus, the leading rusher in the SWAC, ran for 179 of his 185 yards and two touchdowns in the first half before aggravating a foot injury. He returned in the fourth quarter but was ineffective as ASU lost its fourth straight to drop to 4-5 and 3-4.
“It hurts, especially with me being a senior in my last year,” Cyrus said. “What senior would want to go out the way we’re going out? We’re just going to keep on fighting, and I’m going to keep my head up.”
The Jaguars snapped the ball in Hornets territory at least once in each of their first seven possessions yet trailed 14-12 at halftime. Southern took a 21-14 lead into the fourth quarter but found itself tied shortly thereafter.
That’s when Howard and Co. found the most sustained execution of the night, and it made the difference.
Howard got things started with a 14-yard run, then threw a 15-yard pass to Travis to convert a third-and-8. On third-and-6, he found Quinn for 24 yards, then on third-and-8, Howard sprinted the last 9 yards on the 70-yard march.
“When he came to the sideline after that run,” Travis said, “I went straight to him and I said, ‘You’re starting to grow up, you’re starting to grow up.’ ”
ASU had three more possessions and couldn’t make a first down on any of them.
“We had the lead then, but we knew it was only one score and they could still win,” said linebacker Demetrius Carter, who led Southern with 11 tackles and two sacks. “So as a defense, we just made up our mind that they weren’t going to score again.”
The Hornets desperately tried to get the ball back in the final minute, but Howard’s 43-yard pass to Travis yielded a first down at the Hornets 12 and the clock ran out.
“We knew that they would come in and try and stop the run,” said running back Lenard Tillery, who had 28 yards on 15 carries, “so it was good to see Austin develop and have a great game. Reggie Travis had a great game and, of course, Willie Quinn had another great game.”
The passing game offset ASU’s advantage in the running game (297-86).
“They might have been rushing, but not in big chunks and we were able to keep them out of the end zone,” Southern coach Dawson Odums said. “There’s a lot of offensive talent in this conference. If you can hold a team to 21 points, you’re going to have a chance to win that game.”
Southern began the third quarter down by two, but on its second possession of the third quarter, Howard completed passes to Quinn for 13 and 7 yards, ran 14 yards and, on third-and-3 threw a 23-yard touchdown to Travis.
Greg Pittman’s 40-yard field goal gave the Jaguars a 21-14 lead after three quarters.
Daniel Duhart’s 31-yard touchdown pass to Wyndell Archie tied the score with 13:51 left, but the Jaguars passing game took over from there.
ASU took a 7-0 lead after its first possession when Cyrus ran 37 yards for a touchdown, completing an 80-yard drive
Pittman made a 40-yard field goal for the Jaguars’ first points. DeMarco Bell fumbled on the ensuing kickoff, and Devon Gales recovered for Southern at the ASU 18. On the next play, Howard and Quinn teamed up for a touchdown pass, leaving the Jaguars with a 9-7 lead after Pittman’s extra point was blocked. Pittman made another 40-yard field goal for a 12-7 lead.
ASU took over at its 17 with 22 seconds left after a punt and seemed content to run out the clock as it handed off to Cyrus, but he found a big opening on the left side and sprinted up the sideline until D’Andre Woodland caught him at the Southern 2. Cyrus went the rest of the way on the next snap for a 14-12 halftime lead.