Southern’s 47-42 loss to Prairie View on Saturday can be looked at two ways.
In some ways, the Jaguars were their own worst enemy, losing four of their six fumbles.
But an even bigger enemy might have been former Glen Oaks standout Johnta’ Hebert, whose personal homecoming celebration spoiled the Jaguars’ homecoming in A.W. Mumford Stadium.
“It hurts to lose your homecoming game,” Southern senior nose guard Gabe Echols said after the team’s first home loss to a conference opponent since their homecoming loss against Alcorn State two years ago.
Hebert had 284 yards of total offense — and another 114 on five kickoff returns — and scored four touchdowns. He rushed 17 times for 114 yards and two touchdowns and caught 10 passes for 170 yards and two scores.
“We saw some opportunities to make some plays,” Hebert said. “I caught two touchdowns because on film, we saw we could complete that pass. Rushing wise, my O-line did a good job of blocking up front and picking up blitzes. It’s easy to see the hole when they’re creating wide lanes for me to run through.”
Prairie View, 4-2 and 4-1 in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, stayed in the thick of the West Division race by dropping the Jaguars to 3-3 and 3-1.
Southern faces an uphill climb to win a third consecutive West Division title after Grambling improved to 5-0 by defeating East leader Alcorn State 35-34 in overtime Saturday. The Jaguars visit Texas Southern next Saturday.
Prairie View was trying to add to a 34-30 lead when it lined up for a 39-yard field goal midway through the third quarter.
Southern blocked the field goal, but Dionte McDuffy lost control of the football and Reggie Jackson recovered for the Panthers at the 14. Three plays later, Hebert ran 15 yards for a touchdown and a 40-30 lead with 6:07 left.
“That was big,” Southern coach Dawson Odums said, “because we had fought so hard to stop them.”
The Jaguars came right back with a 71-yard drive that ended with Lenard Tillery’s 1-yard touchdown run. Nick Brewer tipped Greg Pittman’s extra point wide, leaving Prairie View with a 40-36 lead with 4:04 left.
But the Panthers drove 52 yards to Hebert’s fourth touchdown, which came on a 13-yard run with 41 seconds left.
Tillery, who finished with 188 yards of total offense, turned a swing pass into a 54-yard touchdown pass as time ran out.
That left Austin Howard with 18 completions in 28 attempts for 339 yards and two touchdowns.
“We shot ourselves in the foot,” said receiver Randall Menard, who had four catches for 168 yards and a touchdown, but also had two drops and lost a fumble. “We went in with too big of a head. We needed a loss to get our mind right.”
Prairie View quarterback Trey Green completed 20 of 37 for 338 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.
“We did leave some things on the field,” linebacker Daniel Brown said. “But you don’t want to take anything away from the other team. We weren’t mentally sound. They made the plays, and we didn’t.”
The Panthers gained 517 yards, 3 fewer than the Jaguars, but they converted 11 of 16 third downs and Southern converted 2 of 8.
“It’s hard enough to get teams to third down,” Echols said. “Once you get them there, you have to stop them, but they kept capitalizing.”
Southern led 23-20 after a first half in which the lead changed hands four times and the seesawing continued in the third quarter.
Hebert caught a 31-yard touchdown pass from Green to put the Panthers ahead, but on the ensuing possession Howard threw a 28-yard touchdown pass to Menard to put the Jaguars back on top 30-27 after three quarters.
Prairie View was in position to regain the lead when Green threw a 33-yard completion to KhaDarel Hodge, but McDuffy knocked the ball loose from Hodge and Christian Allen recovered the fumble for Southern at the 3.
But the field position led to points moments later when Pittman fumbled a punt snap and Brewer recovered for the Panthers at the 1. One the next play De’Auntre Smiley sneaked 1yard for a touchdown that gave Prairie View a 34-30 lead with 13:28 remaining.
But in a game in which the lead changed hands seven times, it never changed hands again — thanks to Hebert.
The outcome left the Panthers and the Jaguars in similar spots, both with one loss and looking up at Grambling in the standings.
“We knew this was going to be a 60-minute game,” Prairie View first-year coach Willie Simmons said. “What Coach Odums has done with this football program is phenomenal, and I’m trying to get our program to the level of consistency that he’s got Southern to. We’re just glad to come out here and overcome some early adversity.”