J.P. Douglas took a chance.
On the first series in Southern’s 30-14 win over Alcorn State on Saturday night at A.W. Mumford Stadium, center Lee Almanza — a senior captain—snapped a ball over the head of Douglas, a freshman who was making only his second start as a college quarterback.
As Douglas chased down the football, he had to make a decision: fall on the ball and take a big loss, or roll the dice and try to pick it up.
“It was a bad snap, and the coaches usually tell us to dive on the ball,” said a grinning Douglas, who completed 11 of 23 passes for 192 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
“But I saw that nobody was coming, so I picked the ball up and tried to make a play.”
Douglas got around two Alcorn pass rushers, turned upfield and pump-faked his way past three more tacklers. Then he weaved across the field and finished with a 37-yard touchdown run that gave the Jaguars a 7-0 lead.
Not bad for a busted play.
Douglas threw touchdown passes on Southern’s next two series, leading the team to a 20-0 first-quarter lead.
“We knew we had to get things started early and keep it solid throughout the whole game,” Douglas said.
Douglas and the offense slowed down in the second quarter — and, for that matter, much of the rest of the game — but his early performance was what Southern coach Stump Mitchell hoped for when he made a switch earlier last month.
Flip-flopping roles of his top two quarterbacks, Mitchell made Douglas the starter and sophomore Dray Joseph a relief pitcher.
Mitchell said he never wanted to bench Joseph, but felt he had little choice, noting that in his five starts, Joseph had thrown three interceptions that were returned for touchdowns.
Joseph, for his part, entered Saturday’s game in the third quarter. He completed six of 14 passes for 55 yards and an interception. Joseph was in the game for Southern’s final touchdown drive, which ended with Sylvester Nzekwe’s 58-yard run.
Speaking of which ...
Another 100-yard game
Nzekwe started slowly Saturday against Alcorn. He certainly picked it up in the second half.
Nzekwe broke loose for two long third-quarter runs and finished with a career-high 134 yards and a touchdown on 19 attempts.
His runs of 40 and 58 yards were the longest rushing plays from scrimmage this season. The previous long was Douglas’ 37-yard scramble earlier in Saturday’s game.
Before that, the longest rush was a 23-yard scramble by Joseph.
Saturday’s game marked the second time this season that Nzekwe broke the 100-yard barrier. He had 108 yards on 28 carries against Prairie View on Oct. 8.
Saturday night, Southern paid tribute to several former employees who have died within the past year.
SU presented commemorative plaques to the families of John Ned, Henry Thurman Jr., Michael “Sweet” Haynes, Roderick Mosley and Thomas “Zeus” Hall during game stoppages.
Ned was a longtime assistant trainer, serving under Carl “Doc” Williams and Alec Hawkins. He died in December of cancer at 53.
Thurman, a Southern graduate and architect, also served as the public-address announcer for football games at A.W. Mumford Stadium. He died at 83 in April of a lengthy illness.
Haynes was a longtime university employee and served as volunteer to the athletics department. He died in August at 50.
Mosley, an SU graduate, was working as assistant sports information director at Grambling died after suffering a heart attack in September. He was 38.
Hall, a former SU player and longtime strength and conditioning coach, had taken a similar position at Alcorn this spring. He died Oct. 16 in a car crash. Hall was 38.
The plaques were presented by Danny Morris, a former SU player who once worked alongside Hall as a strength and conditioning coach.
Attendance was announced at 15,011 for Saturday’s game at A.W. Mumford Stadium — smaller than last year’s homecoming crowd of 19,762, who watched Southern defeat Mississippi Valley State 38-20.
Saturday’s game marked the second-largest crowd of the season.
Southern’s Sept. 17 game against Jackson State drew 21,734 fans.
SU did not sell out any of its four home games this season.
To the Southern defense, which held the Braves to three consecutive three-and-out series to begin the game. SU held the Braves to 219 yards from scrimmage.