Southern’s chronic eligibility issues dealt the Jaguars secondary a 1-2-3 punch just before kickoff Saturday night in A.W. Mumford Stadium.
Northwestern State quarterback Zach Adkins was even harder on the defensive backfield, setting school records with 30 completions for the game and 19 consecutive, as well as tying a school record with four touchdown passes.
Adkins, a senior who passed for 331 yards and three touchdowns in a 41-point victory against the Jaguars last season, had just five incompletions as he passed for 230 yards in Northwestern State’s 51-27 victory.
“He was on fire tonight,” Demons coach Jay Thomas said. “He’s usually very, very consistent anyway, but he was really on tonight.”
Southern (1-2) begins defense of its Southwestern Athletic Conference championship when it visits Prairie View on Saturday. The Demons (1-2) next visit Louisiana Tech.
Starting cornerbacks Kevin King and D’Andre Woodland and starting safety Dionte McDuffy were dressed and ready to start before being told just minutes before kickoff that they couldn’t play. King had gone to midfield as a game captain to participate in the pregame coin toss before being pulled.
Southern Athletic Director William Broussard confirmed that the three players, who started in the Jaguars’ first two games, had been withheld for certification reasons but added, “I don’t know why.” He said the decision came from the university outside the athletic department.
Coach Dawson Odums, who had already lost five other key players to ineligibility, said he learned Thursday night that the players’ status was in jeopardy.
“I was hoping we would be able to get them squared away,” he said, “but we didn’t get them squared away.”
As a result, redshirt freshmen Justin Bethancourt and Blake Monroe and true freshman Danny Johnson joined regular starters Rhaheim Ledbetter and Bryan Anderson as starters in the secondary.
Adkins took full advantage of the absences, passing for 162 yards and three touchdowns as the Demons rolled to a 34-7 halftime lead. He broke the school record of 13 consecutive passes when he went 17-for-17 in the second quarter.
The streak reached 19 on the first possession of the third quarter before Adkins missed Ed Eagen. It mattered little as, one play later, Garrett Atzenweiler ran 4 yards for a touchdown and a 41-7 lead. The lead grew to 48-7 when Southern’s Tre Bracken lost a fumble and Adkins followed with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Eagan.
The Jaguars scored consecutive touchdowns on Deonte Shorts’ 79-yard pass to Justin Morgan and Shorts’ 2-yard run to get within 48-21. Chris Moore’s 24-yard field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter increased the lead to 51-21. Bracken ran 56 yards for a Southern touchdown that completed the scoring with 1:34 left.
The Jaguars turned the ball over five times and didn’t take it away. The Demons returned Shorts’ fumble for a touchdown, and the other turnovers gave them the ball at the Southern 16, 41 and 27 and at the Northwestern State 18.
“With as many turnovers as we had, giving teams a short field, it doesn’t matter if they’re a good team or an average team or a bad team,” Odums said. “You’re going to make it difficult on yourself when you turn the ball over. Tough day, man.”
The Jaguars had 298 yards in the second half after having 121 in the first. After completing 3-of-6 passes for 2 yards and losing the fumble in the first half, Shorts was 10-of-15 for 159 yards in the second half. Backup Austin Howard was 4-of-14 for 97 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions.
“Deonte had to get his first-half jitters out of him like every player does,” said Justin Morgan, who caught four passes for 109 yards and a touchdown. “He came out in the second half and did what he had to do. They’re both young quarterbacks, so you expect them to be a little scared at the beginning and have some ups and downs. But they’re ready. We have confidence in them.”
Northwestern State took control almost immediately.
The Demons forced a three-and-out on the first possession, then quickly drove to a 6-yard touchdown pass from Adkins to Tuff McClain.
Southern went three-and-out again, and Paul Randle Soden’s 15-yard punt set up Northwestern State at the Jaguars 31. The Demons couldn’t get a first down, but Moore’s 46-yard field goal increased their lead to 10-0.
On the ensuing possession, Shorts was cornered and reversed field on a scramble before fumbling. JeMarcus Marshall picked the ball up and ran for a touchdown and a 17-0 lead.
Howard replaced Shorts, as he usually does after a few series, and gave Southern a lift on his second possession. He hit Willie Quinn on a quick slant, and Quinn raced up the middle of the field untouched for a 79-yard touchdown that got the Jaguars within 17-7 after one quarter.
Adkins was perfect in the second quarter, passing for 115 yards and touchdowns of 9 yards to Shakeir Ryan and 10 to Cody Jones. In between, Moore kicked a 31-yard field goal as Northwestern State pushed its lead to 34-7 at halftime.
All the while, King, Woodland and McDuffy stood helplessly on the sideline, watching in uniform but having removed their shoulder pads.