Coaches shook hands. Fans lingered. And as always, the bands played on.
But long after the final play in Jackson State’s 28-24 victory over Southern at A.W. Mumford Stadium on Saturday night, a survey of the field said it all.
Typically, after a home game at Southern, players face the eastside stands and raise an index finger while The Human Jukebox plays the school alma mater.
Saturday night, however, while the alma mater played, many SU players took a knee and dropped their heads. Some of them stared blankly ahead, unable to process the game they’d just lost.
All of them were, in a word, crushed.
They came so close to giving Stump Mitchell his first big win over a chief rival. In the end, they came up short. And that hurt.
But Saturday’s loss was crushing for so many reasons.
It was crushing because, for the first time in years, Southern had a charged-up home crowd, and the team wanted to give its fans a reason to feel good again.
It was crushing because Southern missed another chance to beat JSU for only the second time since 2006.
It was crushing because the Jaguars blew so many chances to put JSU away.
During one stretch, SU had six consecutive possessions in JSU territory. The Jaguars scored 10 points.
Southern’s defense had five takeaways against a JSU team that was equal parts spectacular and sloppy — but the Jaguars managed only seven points off those turnovers.
And yet again, they failed to establish the run. The Jaguars haven’t broken the 100-yard barrier for the season, with 82 yards in three games.
Because they couldn’t run, Mitchell had to hope his short-passing game would move the chains in the second half. Because it didn’t, Southern couldn’t kill the clock.
And as a result, Casey Therriault made the Jaguars pay. Just as he did last season, the JSU quarterback engineered a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter.
Finally, Saturday’s loss was crushing because of where it puts Southern now.
Believe it or not, despite all their shortcomings, the Jaguars look like a much better team than they were during last year’s 2-9 debacle.
But as many fans had originally feared, SU might still wrap up college football’s opening month with a 1-3 record to show for it.
Up next for the Jaguars: a trip to Atlanta, where they face an old rival in Florida A&M.
True, a win this week would give the Jaguars a 2-2 record after four games, and before this season started, most fans would’ve taken that.
But they also have to lament Saturday’s loss to JSU, that other hated rival. They know their team could’ve had win No. 2 already.
“This was a tough, tough loss,” Mitchell said. “But I know what to expect on Tuesday. These guys are going to come back, and they’re going to practice, and they’re going to prepare to beat FAMU.”
They’re left with no other choice.