Beset by injuries and a reduced role in the Southern offense, Charles Hawkins had all but vanished from the spotlight.
Saturday afternoon in Montgomery, Ala., the spotlight found him again.
During the Jaguars’ 26-23 upset of Alabama State in the Cramton Bowl, the junior wideout caught seven passes for a career-high 121 yards and a touchdown.
Hawkins made several key plays along the way.
Late in the first half, he gave the Jaguars their first lead, at 9-7, when he easily beat a defender on a seam route for an 18-yard touchdown.
Later, in the third quarter, Southern faced a third-and-16 when quarterback J.P. Douglas dropped back and fired a long bomb down the left side, where Hawkins outmaneuvered two Hornets, cornerback Saeed Lee and safety Kejuan Riley, to make a 46-yard catch.
Southern scored on that possession to take a 19-7 lead.
Finally, during the Jaguars’ game-winning drive, Hawkins moved the chains with an 8-yard catch-and-run on fourth-and-3.
“It felt real good to be back involved in the offense,” he said. “I was just having fun.”
It was a pleasant re-entry into the spotlight for Hawkins, who had a productive training camp in August and began this season as one of the team’s top two wideouts.
Heading into a Sept. 17 home game against Jackson State, he was the team’s second-leading receiver with eight catches for 172 yards with one touchdown.
Hawkins left the Jackson State game with a mild concussion after taking a helmet-to-helmet hit from JSU’s Richard Hughes. He returned to action two weeks later, but was then slowed by a strained Achilles’ heel.
Since the concussion, Hawkins had only four receptions.
“Patience is a virtue,” Hawkins said. “I was just letting the game come to me.”
Tough in the East
Saturday’s triumph gave Southern a 4-1 record against Eastern Division opponents this season.
The Jaguars defeated Alabama A&M, Mississippi Valley State, Alcorn State and Alabama State; their only defeat to an East team came Sept. 17 at home against Jackson State, when SU gave up a late touchdown and lost 28-24.
Southern is 0-3 against teams in its own division, with losses to West rivals Prairie View, Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Texas Southern.
Numbers to know
16. Southern prevailed Saturday despite allowing 16 fourth-quarter points to Alabama State — the most for any SU opponent this season. Opponents have outscored the Jaguars 69-26 in the fourth quarter this year.
4. The Jaguars were 4-for-4 in the red zone Saturday. It was the first time all season that Southern scored four times inside the red zone in a single game. SU has scored 16 of 27 times in the red zone this season.
2. Douglas threw two touchdown passes Saturday for the third consecutive week. During that time, he has completed 53 percent of his throws for six touchdowns and one interception.
“The previous six (losses), it started to flash back in our minds. But me being the captain I am, and knowing my teammates, we’d been through it so many times, so we knew we were going to fight through it, to fight through this adversity, then come back and get this ‘W.’”
SU linebacker Jamie Payton
“That’s what the Jaguar Nation is supposed to do. (Fans) come out and support us. The guys came out, played hard and finished the ballgame, and they beat a team that was in first place.”
SU coach Stump Mitchell
Southern is idle this week. The Jaguars (4-6, 4-4) wrap up their season against Grambling on Nov. 26 in the Bayou Classic.
Grambling (6-4, 5-3) toppled Texas Southern 29-25 at home Saturday, extending its winning streak to five games.
Grambling, Prairie View and Arkansas-Pine Bluff are all still alive for the Western Division title and a berth in the SWAC Championship Game.
Grambling needs a Prairie View loss Saturday against Alabama A&M, along with a win over Southern in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
UAPB can reach the title game if it winds up in a three-way tie for first place with Grambling and Prairie View.