The reigning Southwestern Athletic Conference champion rolled into Veterans Memorial Stadium last week, looking for a big victory at Jackson State.
Texas Southern looked like a champion in search of its second straight title, filled to the brim with a strong defense, burly linemen and two bruising tailbacks.
For one quarter, it was TSU’s kind of game. Slow-paced. Physical. Methodical. The score tied at 0.
Then the second quarter began, and JSU unloaded. Fifteen minutes later, thanks to a host of big plays, big turnovers and a glut of TSU special-teams mistakes, Jackson State had a 37-7 lead.
Asked if he’d ever coached a team that scored 37 points in one quarter, Jackson State coach Rick Comegy said: “I’m not too sure about that. ... Maybe once at the most.”
Comegy and JSU cruised to a 58-13 win.
To the reigning champions, this was a heaping helping of humble pie.
“We’ve just got to come together like we never have before,” TSU interim coach Kevin Ramsey said. “A loss like that ... it really paled into us.”
It was just the latest important win for an Eastern Division team over one of its Western adversaries this season.
Which, come to think of it, is quite a surprise, given the recent history of the conference. Western teams have won the championship in four of the past six seasons, including the past three in a row.
This year, it may turn out differently.
Is the balance of power shifting from the West to the East? It sure looks that way.
Consider just a few examples:
•?Jackson State looked sloppy against Southern on Sept. 17, but managed to pull out a 28-24 win. Then the Tigers blasted TSU.
e_SBlt?Last week, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, the West leader at the time, headed east to face Alabama A&M. The Golden Lions had a comfortable lead before they had a meltdown for the ages in the fourth quarter, giving up three touchdown passes in the final 13 minutes to lose 28-27.
e_SBlt?Southern barely escaped Itta Bena, Miss., with a 28-21 win over Mississippi Valley State.
e_SBlt?As it stands, the only remaining undefeated team in SWAC play is Alabama State - which, incidentally, visits Texas Southern this weekend in a rematch of last season’s championship game, an 11-6 victory for TSU.
This time, there’s a big difference. Alabama State is the favorite.
“Those guys have really got it going,” Ramsey said. “They’re on top over on that (Eastern) side, and we’ve really got to have our ?A’ game when these guys come in here.”
That’s because Alabama State, so far, is the best team in the East. And so far, the best teams in the East have been better than the best of the West.
Yes, Western Division teams have seven wins against Eastern foes so far - but five of those seven wins came against Alcorn State and Valley, who have a combined overall record of 1-9.
So what happened to the West?
It hasn’t helped that some of the presumed favorites - namely, Grambling and TSU - haven’t lived up to their preseason billing. Despite last week’s disaster, Texas Southern has a proven defense and reliable running game; inconsistent special teams have led to TSU losing two of its first three conference games.
Grambling, on the other hand, has been a full-fledged disappointment at 1-4.
Leave it to Doug Williams to at least keep his sense of humor amid the mess. Reminded that his team has an open date this week, he replied: “We’ve got a chance. We’ve got a chance this week.”
Williams also added that he plans to petition the NCAA to have games truncated to three quarters.
“We start making our blunders and mistakes in the fourth quarter,” he said.
Even Prairie View, which owns a half-game lead over Southern and Arkansas-Pine Bluff in the West, has looked suspect at times. The Panthers needed big special-teams plays to win shootouts against Texas Southern and winless Mississippi Valley.
Prairie View’s lone conference loss was to Arkansas-Pine Bluff, whose coach, Monte Coleman, issued a timely warning this week: There’s still a long way to go.
“We haven’t folded our tents,” he said. “We’ll continue to practice hard and play hard. We’re far from giving up anything.”
The Lions can make a statement with a visit to Jackson State this weekend.