When it rains, it pours.
Heavy rain pelted the field at A.W. Mumford Stadium long before Southern kicked off against Alcorn State on Saturday afternoon.
By the time the Southwestern Athletic Conference rivals had sloshed their way through mud and standing water, the game had ended the way the past four meetings had ended: with Alcorn State victorious.
The defending SWAC champion and East division-leading Braves stung the Jaguars with a 78-yard touchdown run on their first play and rolled to a 48-7 victory that put the Jaguars’ hopes of a third consecutive West Division title on life support.
“It’s a new year and a new team,” Southern running back Lenard Tillery said, “but it’s the same result.”
Alcorn lost senior quarterback John Gibbs Jr., the SWAC Preseason Offensive Player of the Year who had orchestrated the four previous wins against Southern, to a leg injury after two offensive plays but didn’t miss a beat.
Sophomore Lenorris Footman did a pretty fair Gibbs impersonation, rushing for 274 yards and four touchdowns and throwing two touchdown passes among his seven attempts.
“I might sound crazy, but it doesn’t shock me one bit,” Braves coach Jay Hopson said. “We have a blessed situation at quarterback. (Footman) came up huge and showed just the kind of special football player that we know he is.”
Southern, losing a second consecutive home game for the first time in three years, is 4-4 overall and 4-2 in the SWAC going into its game at Arkansas-Pine Bluff next Saturday.
The Jaguars are two games behind Grambling (6-0) and Prairie View (5-1), which holds the head-to-head tiebreaker against Southern.
The Braves, bouncing back from a 35-34 overtime loss to Grambling two weeks ago, came off an open date and improved to 5-2 and 4-1.
“It was tough sitting on that ‘L’ for two weeks,” Hopson said, “but our guys came out and responded pretty well.”
Alcorn rushed for 484 yards, averaging 10.8 yards on 45 carries. Southern rushed for 220 yards but averaged just 3.4 yards on 64 carries.
“I thought it was a tale of the way the two teams are built,” Jaguars coach Dawson Odums said. “We’re built to spread you out and get you in open space. They’re built to run downhill — and they ran downhill.”
Deonte Shorts, who played most of the game as the Jaguars quarterback in place of starter Austin Howard because of his superior running ability, said the team revised its game plan after going through pregame warmups and seeing how bad the field conditions and weather were.
“We came in knowing the offense’s playbook was cut in half,” linebacker Kentavious Preston said. “We knew it was going to be up to us on defense and didn’t execute.”
Southern fell behind 21-0 after less than 15 minutes but got within 21-7 at halftime and was threatening to make it a one-score deficit on its first possession of the third quarter.
A 43-yard run by Tillery, who finished with 151 yards and a touchdown on 32 carries, helped the Jaguars reach the Alcorn 10, but on fourth-and-2 Stacey Garner stopped Tillery for no gain.
“That play hurt a lot,” Shorts said. “I checked to that play and we didn’t execute it, so I take the blame for it.”
That was followed by a four-touchdown blitz that contributed to Southern’s worst home loss since a 54-7 defeat against Texas Southern in 2010.
The four touchdowns came in a seven-minute span, thanks in part to the Jaguars losing two fumbled snaps.
Footman ran 17 yards for a touchdown, passed 38 yards to Brandon Campbell for a score, then raced to the end zone from 30 and 60 yards.
That gave the Braves, who beat Southern 56-16 last season in Lorman, Mississippi, the final margin with 13:53 left.
On the Braves’ first offensive play, receiver Marquis Warford took a handoff and sprinted around left end and up the sideline for a 78-yard touchdown.
On the first play of Alcorn’s next possession, Gibbs ran the ball and injured his leg when tackled. He hobbled off the field and was replaced by Footman.
As Gibbs tried to get the leg loose for a possible return, it became clear to Hopson that he wouldn’t be needed.
On Footman’s first full possession, the Braves faced fourth-and-2 at the Southern 44, and Footman faked a handoff and ran up the middle for a touchdown and a 14-0 lead that Alcorn took into the second quarter. Two possessions later, Footman threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Payne.
The Braves tried an onside kick, and the ball went out of bounds at midfield. Southern then went exclusively to the running game, and it paid off.
Shorts rushed twice for 12 yards and Tillery rushed 10 times for 38 yards, including nine straight plays, the last of which was a 1-yard touchdown that got the Jaguars within 21-7 at halftime.
But the field conditions and Southern’s condition got progressively worse in the second half.
Follow Les East on Twitter: @EastAdvocate.