Saturday night inside A.W. Mumford Stadium, at the end of a wild, intense, energetic college football game between two old rivals, Jackson State quarterback Casey Therriault took a knee.
Then he walked toward the visitors sideline, waving his arms in triumph. His team had survived and escaped with a 28-24 victory over Southern.
Moments later, near the 35-yard line, Jaguars senior safety Demetric Rogers shuffled toward the home sideline, peeling off his uniform, his eyes transfixed on the grass. He was heartbroken.
For his team, a promising second half had come and gone. Southern had chances to score more points, to hold off JSU, to pull out an upset victory. In the end, however, the Jaguars frittered too many of them away.
The Tigers made them pay.
With 4:36 remaining, Therriault rolled right and found receiver Rico Richardson for the 12-yard go-ahead touchdown.
“Even sometimes when they appeared flat, they played football with heart,” JSU coach Rick Comegy said. “I knew we could drive the ball on them. We had done it all game.”
Even after that, Southern had its chances. The Jaguars had a three-and-out, botched a punt attempt and handed JSU the ball inside the SU 30-yard line.
Unthinkably, the Tigers botched a handoff, and linebacker Jamie Payton recovered with 1:28 left.
But the JSU defense held, and that was that.
Southern’s game attempt at an upset fell short, leaving the Jaguars to wonder if a tough-but-promising September had turned sour.
Fresh off a 21-6 win over Alabama A&M the week before, they came into Saturday’s showdown with plenty of fire. Now Southern (1-2, 1-1 Southwestern Athletic Conference) wraps up the opening month of this season with another rival — Alabama A&M — at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
Late Saturday night, however, the Jaguars weren’t thinking about FAMU.
Instead, they had to lament all the opportunities they missed against Jackson State (3-0, 1-0).
“It’s definitely difficult,” left tackle Chris Browne said. “There are no moral victories in this game. We’re too old for that. We’ve got to come back and do a better job.”
Southern forced five turnovers — including two second-half interceptions of Therriault, the SWAC’s preseason offensive player of the year. Therriault finished with 261 passing yards, two touchdown passes and a short touchdown run.
Trailing by three points in the fourth quarter, Therriault led his team on a seven-play, 65-yard drive that included several punishing runs against a physical-but-tired SU defense.
The drive culminated with Therriault’s 12-yard throw to Richardson.
In truth, however, the Jaguars probably should’ve had a larger lead before the JSU drive even started.
Three times in the third quarter, Southern moved inside the JSU 20-yard line. The Jaguars came away with only three points.
SU botched a field-goal attempt from 28 yards away. Manuel Canto connected on a 23-yard field goal, but missed his next attempt, wide left, from 39 yards away.
Then, on their fourth possession of the third quarter, the Jaguars started at the JSU 33 — but a 15-yard penalty and three incomplete passes forced Southern to punt.
Asked if all those missed chances ended up dooming his team, second-year coach Stump Mitchell didn’t hesitate.
“Definitely,” Mitchell said. “It was a four-point ballgame. ... We mishandled a snap on a field goal. That cost us. We missed a field goal, and that cost us. There should’ve been a touchdown or two, or a couple field goals and a touchdown.”
Southern lost despite getting 287 passing yards and three touchdowns from Dray Joseph, though the sophomore quarterback completed only 40 percent of his throws.
Joseph also had 34 rushing yards to lead the Jaguars, whose ground game struggled for the third consecutive week, finishing with 19 yards on 20 carries.
Saturday’s game was a matchup between two teams who are ineligible for the SWAC Championship Game because of their poor Academic Progress Rate. The NCAA imposed a one-year postseason ban on both teams, and SWAC presidents and chancellors later voted to extend the ban to the conference title game.
Still, the weekend offered at atmosphere long missing from Southern’s campus.
Long before noon, the campus was littered with RVs and tailgaters. More than two hours before kickoff, hundreds of fans lined up outside Gate 6, clamoring to get inside the stadium.
More than an hour before kickoff, both bands — JSU’s Sonic Boom of the South and Southern’s Human Jukebox — marched into the stands, adding a charge to the crowd.
“The guys came out and played hard. The fans came out and supported us,” Mitchell said. “We just fell on the short side.”
It was Jackson State’s third consecutive victory over Southern and the Tigers’ fifth victory in the past six meetings — including last season’s thriller at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
In that game, before a crowd of 42,059, the teams scored four touchdowns in the final 2:59 — and just when it appeared that Southern pulled one out of the fire, scoring a touchdown with 19 seconds remaining, Therriault led the Tigers on a two-play drive that culminated with a 28-yard TD throw to Richardson, who scored the game-winner with 2 seconds left in a 49-45 shocker.
On Saturday night in Mumford, both teams didn’t exactly come out hot. They opened the game with six consecutive punts, and no one scored until late in the first quarter, when Jackson State put together the first strong drive of the night, converting on three straight third downs.
They were tied at 14 going into halftime.
Southern pulled ahead 24-21 late in the third quarter, when Joseph found Lee Doss, who broke several tackles on his way to the end zone.
It was the Jaguars’ first lead of the night.
But they couldn’t keep it.