ITTA BENA, Miss. — One by one, they kept going down. Somehow, despite a host of injuries and instant promotions, Southern’s battered and young offensive linemen held together Saturday, and they helped the Jaguars hold off Mississippi Valley State in a 28-21 victory.
“I think they did a great job,” second-year coach Stump Mitchell said.
Judging from the numbers, they seemed to do enough.
The reshuffled line — which headed into Rice-Totten Stadium without two projected starters, then had to reshuffle again during the game — paved the way for an offense that amassed 409 yards from scrimmage, including 268 yards in the second half, and 94 yards on a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter.
Southern began the day without left guard Zach Brown, who started last week’s game against Florida A&M, and right tackle Taylon Jones, who’d started all four of the Jaguars’ previous games. Both men left the FAMU game with ankle injuries, and Mitchell said he expects they won’t return soon.
Aaron Hall took Brown’s place at left guard, and Dwayne Houston shifted from right guard to right tackle, replacing Jones. Donald Glover took Houston’s old spot at right guard, and Hall sometimes flip-flopped with freshman Isaiah Webster, who came off the bench.
SU even used two tackles, freshman Brandon Thibodaux and sophomore Clinton Boyd, as tight ends.
Then the real fun began.
When Hall left with what appeared to be another ankle injury, Webster and Thibodaux both played more frequently.
By the end of the game, only two players — left tackle Chris Browne and center Lee Almanza — were left from the lineup SU used in its season opener at Tennessee State.
“One thing we know: We don’t have anybody to redshirt,” Mitchell said. “We’ve played every offensive lineman now that we have.”
Actually, there’s one guy left. Allan Spry, a freshman guard/center who made the trip, hasn’t yet played.
But Mitchell’s point is well-taken.
The revamped line allowed only once sack, and it led a team that had a season-high 126 rushing yards.
Tailback Sylvester Nzekwe, who carried 30 times for 86 yards said: “Hey, that’s why they’re recruited. They just had to be ready. We made sure in practice that the backups kept getting reps.”
Southern opened with two wide receivers, converted tackle Clinton Boyd at tight end and Nzekwe at tailback. It was Nzekwe’s second consecutive start.
Wide receiver Charles Hawkins returned after missing last week’s loss with a concussion. He was targeted once and dropped the ball.
On defense, Southern opened in a 3-3-5 alignment, with defensive tackle Traé Tiller making his first career start. D’Mekus Cook was the extra defensive back.
• Cook scored his first career touchdown in the first quarter, when he returned an interception 58 yards.
• Defensive end Jeffrey Watkins, a freshman from Mangham High, had his first career sack when he dropped Marvin Pittman for an 8-yard loss in the first quarter.
• Strong safety Mychal Bell made his first career interception when he grabbed a tipped pass in the first quarter. Bell had a 43-yard return wiped out by two penalties.
• Defensive tackle Dexter James, a senior, made his first career interception in the second quarter when he stepped in front of a screen pass.
• Cornerback LaMarkius Pettaway made his first career interception, though he fumbled at the Valley 2-yard line after a long return.
• Wide receiver Justin Williams, primarily used as a long snapper, made his first catch of the season during the third quarter. It went for 24 yards.
Running back/kick returner Byron Williams, cornerback Virgil Williams and wide receiver Lee Doss were team captains for Southern. ... The Jaguars have won eight of their past nine meetings with Valley. Their only loss during that stretch was in 2005, when Valley won 31-28. ... Lutcher High School brought its marching band to play at halftime. ... Valley had a moment of silence for Roderick Mosley, who died Sept. 21 of a heart attack at 38. Mosley, an SU graduate, was assistant sports information director at Grambling and was also a former SID at Valley.
To senior defensive tackle Dexter James, who had a sack, an interception, and teamed with Jamie Payton to make the key stop on fourth-and-9 with less than a minute remaining.