Southern has had a single-minded focus since it lost in the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship game 11 months ago.
The Jaguars have been thinking and talking about — and, most importantly, preparing and striving — to get back to the title game and win it for the second time in three years.
But when Southern faces Arkansas-Pine Bluff at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in Golden Lion Stadium, for the first time in 11 months, that goal seems virtually unattainable.
The Jaguars (4-4, 4-2) are mathematically alive in the West Division race, but they need a series of improbable outcomes that they can’t control — as well a victory against the Golden Lions (1-7, 0-6) and two more after that.
“A lot of people understand that our chances are kind of slim, but we’re not demoralized,” running back Malcolm Crockett said. “We want to show people that we’re going to keep fighting. Just because the chances are slim, we’re not going to lay down. We’re going to keep finishing because you never know. Stuff might happen.”
Regardless of whatever other stuff might or might happen, the Jaguars know they have to fix shortcomings that contributed to last week’s 48-7 loss to Alcorn State, their second defeat in three weeks, if they’re going to run the table.
“You just have to move on to the next one,” quarterback Austin Howard said. “You can’t dwell on the losses, and you can’t dwell on the wins. Every week, you just have to try to get better at something. You can’t be the same team you were last week.”
Last week, Southern was a team that fumbled nine times and lost five in torrential rain, gave up almost 500 rushing yards (including nearly 300 to a backup quarterback) and completed five passes.
“We’re playing for our pride,” Howard said. “We’re playing for respect, just to show people that, just because we might be out of the race, we’re still playing for the fans that came out to see us in that bad weather. We’re playing to show people that we still have passion for the game.”
Crockett said the Jaguars “have to finish strong.”
“With the loss we just had, we’re fired up about playing Arkansas-Pine Bluff,” he said. “We really want to get that bad taste out. We’re excited to play another opponent. Even though their stats are kind of lower and they’re winless (in SWAC play), we’re still going to treat that team as if they have a winning record. We don’t want to take any team lightly, because anything can happen in a game.”
Southern coach Dawson Odums said he can see on film that the Lions haven’t quit.
“They’re fighting to the end,” he said. “They’re competing. They’re scoring late. You’re still seeing enthusiasm and excitement. They’re still having fun when they make a play. They’re not dropping their heads when a team makes plays on them.
“It’s a learning process, and they’re staying the course and they keep fighting and move on to the next one. Really, that’s all you can do. That’s what we try to teach our team.”
UAPB’s lone win was against Division II Morehouse College in Week 2. Coach Monte Coleman said the Golden Lions bottomed out in a 61-14 loss against Alcorn four games ago, but they have kept competing.
“We’re not winning, but we’re playing hard,” he said. “We are making plays. It’s been like that over the past few games. We’re just not making the plays that we need to make to sustain. We’ve gotten off to fast starts against some teams and then, for whatever reason, we have kind of petered out. I kind of credit that to being a young team.”
Last week the Lions visited Prairie View and took an early 14-0 lead on a team that has lost just once in conference play. They eventually lost 54-29, but Odums and Coleman cited the 60-minute effort UAPB gave.
“It would be very easy for a team that is 1-6 to go into that game against Prairie View, which is a very good football team, and just lay down completely, and that’s what they didn’t do,” Coleman said. “And that’s the thing that we won’t do.”
Coleman pledged that his team will finish the way the Jaguars have pledged to as well.
“We will continue,” he said, “to play hard for these next three football games.”
Follow Les East on Twitter: @EastAdvocate.