The Southern football team went into the locker room at halftime Saturday night having just surrendered the lead to Alabama State.
Everyone in A.W. Mumford Stadium figured the Jaguars would have a 12-7 lead when they returned to the field for the second-half kickoff. But with 22 seconds left in the second quarter, a couple of Southern defenders collided, and others took the wrong angle. As a result, a routine running play designed to run out the clock turned into an 81-yard run by Malcolm Cyrus, who ran 2 more yards on the next play for a touchdown that gave ASU a 14-12 lead.
“I could have come in and kicked the water cooler over and hurt myself, screaming and yelling at them,” Jaguars coach Dawson Odums said, “but our guys understand what’s at stake, they understand what’s on the line, they understand how we’ve got to play. We just challenged them to play that way, and that’s all it was in the second half.”
After halftime, the defense allowed 112 yards after surrendering 298 in the first half, significantly reducing both the rushing and passing yards allowed and giving up just seven points.
The offense scored 16 points, getting the winning score at the end of a 70-yard drive that included three conversions on third-and-long. With the Hornets clinging to their last timeout and trying to force a Jaguars punt in the final minute, Odums nixed a run call and went for a play-action pass that turned into a victory-clinching 43-yard completion from Austin Howard to Reggie Travis.
ASU was expecting the run — much like Southern was at the end of the first half — and Travis already had beaten the Hornets secondary for eight receptions, 110 yards and a touchdown.
“I walked into the huddle and I explained, ‘Just execute. We’re going to take a shot,’ ” Odums said. “You’ve got to win football games. I’ve played games for some coaches that have a gunslinger mentality. When the game’s on the line, you least expect it, but I like the discipline and our execution on that play.”
Odums said he never would have made that call in Howard’s first game, but the true freshman has grown up quite a bit since August, just as the entire team has.
“Based on how many snaps he’s taken, he probably feels like he’s a sophomore, maybe even a senior,” Odums said. “But he took some shots today, made some smart plays, made some not-so-smart plays, but overall you can see his confidence starting to grow.”
The same is true of the Jaguars, who have won their last four games to improve to 6-3 and 5-1 in the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
“We’re just trying to ride that wave and keep the momentum on our side,” linebacker Demetrius Carter said. “I feel like we can get better.”
If they win their last three games, they will repeat as West Division champions and have a chance to repeat as conference champs.
Running back Lenard Tillery recounted Odums’ message to the team after the game: “He said, ‘It wasn’t the best win we’ve had. It was pretty sloppy, but we came through a lot and we got the win so, at the end of the day, whether it’s a one-point win or a hundred-point win, a win is a win, and we’ll take it however we get it.’ ”
The latest win came in a game in which Southern was outgained 410-377, a week after surrendering 530 yards in a 42-28 win at Jackson State.
“You look at the stats and you ask, ‘How did they win that football game?’ ” Odums said. “It’s just will. You’ve got to refuse to lose sometimes. It’s not always going to go your way, but you’ve got to have the mindset that says, ‘Play the next play, stay positive, regroup, refocus and let’s go out here and make a play.’ ”
“I think they have championship pedigree, and you could see that. When we got down 14-12, a lot of teams would have lost that football game. But they came out the second half like it was 0-0. ‘Let’s go play, find a way to win.’ ”