It should’ve worked.
Saturday night against Alabama State, in a frantic, fast-paced game littered with momentum swings, fiery speeches and tidal waves of emotion, the Southern football team wasn’t perfect. Far from it, in fact.
The final score — Hornets 31, Jaguars 30 — served as the most obvious proof.
The Jaguars’ special-teams units were sometimes sloppy, missing tackles and botching punt attempts. But on a cool autumn night in A.W. Mumford Stadium, they’d also made enough dazzling plays to keep Southern in it.
A tired and frustrated defense made stand after inspiring stand in the second half, keeping the Jaguars within seven points.
And the offense, led by quarterback Dray Joseph and three talented receivers, had taken flight.
So with 3:05 remaining in the final home game of another disappointing season, when Southern got the ball and moved with quickness and ease, the game-winning score was well within reach. The offense was hot.
That was why, after Joseph fired to wideout Lee Doss for a touchdown with 20 seconds left, interim coach Dawson Odums hardly hesitated. He went for two and the win.
It should’ve worked.
The play — Double Right, Zebra Right, Sprint Right, Zebra Drags — should’ve worked.
In practice, it works every time.
It calls for Doss to go in motion and cut across the field, weaving through a maze of bodies as his defender gets caught in the wash.
“Usually, when we practice that play, Lee Doss would be wide open in the corner of the end zone, running a little drag route,” said Joseph, who had his finest game of the season with 349 passing yards and three touchdowns.
“But I knew we would be outnumbered when I watched the (safety) follow him. So I just tried to run around and make a play.”
Joseph scrambled, then moved toward the goal line, as if to try for the score himself. At the last moment, he spotted tight end Rashaun Allen, all alone, in the right corner. Joseph threw.
“I short-hopped it,” he said.
With that, more scenes from a wreckage unfolded.
Joseph sat down, rested his hands on his lap and stared at the brown-and-green grass. Left tackle Chris Browne, playing his final home game, sat alone on the bench, inconsolable. He had played this role — the dejected athlete who came up a hair short — many times since he arrived from Cleveland in 2008.
For the past five years at Southern, that’s been a defining motto.
In ’08, the Jaguars could’ve forced a three-way tie atop the Southwestern Athletic Conference Western Division with a win in the Bayou Classic. But they lost a first-half lead to Grambling and crumbled. The result: a 6-5 record in Pete Richardson’s next-to-last year.
In 2009, on a Thursday night, they had a chance to topple Prairie View and take control of the West race. In the closing minute, they moved inside the 20-yard line and had a chance to kick the game-winning field goal — but their best player, Juamorris Stewart, fumbled the ball away.
By the end of the year, Richardson was out of a job, and Stump Mitchell was making grand predictions.
Even in Mitchell’s ugly 2-9 debut, Southern had a chance to win three games in the final 20 seconds. The Jaguars lost all three.
Last year offered much of the same. SU dropped four games by a combined 13 points and finished 4-7, turning 2012 a make-or-break year for Mitchell.
Very quickly, it was a break. Southern pushed Mitchell out after the second game of the season — another ugly loss, 6-0, to Mississippi Valley.
Just one week ago, the Jaguars had taken Alabama A&M to overtime, only to miss an extra point, opening the door for a 24-23 Bulldogs win.
Then came Saturday’s home finale. Another heartbreaker.
Saturday’s game drew an announced crowd of 14,220, but anyone who was inside the stadium would tell you the actual gathering was much smaller. Patches of empty seats were vast and noticeable.
That in itself was a major statement.
With their willingness to stay home, the fans have spoken. So many of them have decided it’s not worth their trouble to drive to campus, tailgate, plunk down money for tickets and watch the Jaguars break their hearts yet again.
For so many years now, they’ve been close.
But close won’t cut it anymore.