ATLANTA — Down to their last chance, trailing Florida A&M by five points after giving up a fourth-quarter lead, the Southern football team hit the field with 3:27 remaining in a 38-33 loss at the Atlanta Football Classic.
The Jaguars huddled up. What did they say?
“We’ve got to get it,” tailback Sylvester Nzekwe said. “The quarterback said, ‘We’ve got to get it.’ That was it.”
The quarterback, at that time, was sophomore Dray Joseph, who’d thrown for 182 yards and an interception in the first half. He was pulled late in the second quarter by second-year coach Stump Mitchell, who inserted freshman J.P. Douglas into action.
Then, after Southern’s offense managed only 2 yards in the third quarter, Joseph re-entered the huddle at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
His team fell behind to Florida A&M, which erased a 16-point deficit to take that five-point lead late in the game.
Southern mounted a drive in the closing moments. But on fourth-and-5 at the FAMU 18-yard line, Joseph looked left and fired toward wideout LaQuinton Evans. Instead, cornerback Marvin Ross picked it off with 45 seconds left, sealing the Rattlers’ win.
For the SU offense, which mounted only 52 yards after halftime, it was a fitting end to a game that started out so well.
Nzekwe had the team’s first rushing touchdown of the season to give SU a 7-0 lead, but the score came only after Joseph connected with Evans for a 42-yard gain.
Joseph completed 14 of 22 passes for 222 yards, but he had three interceptions — including two in the fourth quarter as FAMU mounted its rally.
His first interception came in the second quarter, after which Douglas entered the game.
“I would’ve loved for both quarterbacks to have played, just like we did,” Mitchell said. “And I think, at times, both quarterbacks played well.”
Douglas led a spirited 13-play drive just before halftime, completing three of five passes on the possession and running for a key 11-yard gain.
But Douglas was 0-for-5 in the third quarter.
“It’s tough. I sat the whole third quarter, and I just think that kind of threw me off rhythm and just cooled me off a little bit. I kind of lost the flow of the game,” Joseph said.
“When I got back in, I came back kind of sluggish. I completed a few passes, but I just think the game speed seemed a little bit faster to me.”
Asked if he was perplexed by the switch, Joseph said: “I just have confidence in coach Mitchell. If that’s what he feels is best for the team, I have no problem with it.”