In the third quarter, Rogers, playing in pass coverage, took a sneak peek at the eyes of FAMU quarterback Austin Trainor. Rogers saw where Trainor was looking to throw, and he jumped in front of the pass. Moments later, with a full head of steam, he easily outraced a handful of Rattlers on his way to the end zone.
Suddenly, the Jaguars had a 33-17 lead. With two thunderous marching bands and a divided crowd of 59,373 watching two old rivals collide, the Jaguars seemed destined to grab the most important win to date in coach Stump Mitchell’s two-year tenure.
“When I caught the interception, I was like, ‘Yeah. It looks like we’re going on the right track with this one.’ But I think we started getting lackadaisical and complacent,” Rogers said. “We (were) thinking the game was over.”
It most certainly was not.
Florida A&M made sure it was not.
And the Jaguars helped.
The Rattlers (2-2) turned two of their three interceptions into touchdowns. They emerged from halftime to shut down a hot Southern offense into an ice-cold unit that managed only 52 yards from scrimmage in the final two quarters.
And FAMU tailback Lavante Page finished a school-record five rushing touchdowns — including the go-ahead score with 3:27 remaining.
Southern (1-3) tried to stage a rally in the final minutes, reaching a fourth-and-5 at the Rattlers’ 18-yard line. But quarterback Dray Joseph fired his third interception of the game, and when FAMU cornerback Marvin Ross hit the deck with the ball in his hands and 45 seconds remaining, the Jaguars’ collapse was complete.
“It seems like the second half is bad luck or something for us,” cornerback Virgil Williams said. “I’m still trying to soak it all in, that we actually lost.”
Southern was all but assured of a .500 record heading into October and next week’s game at Mississippi Valley State. Instead, the Jaguars blew a fourth-quarter lead for the second straight game against yet another rival.
The previous week, they allowed Jackson State to rally for a 28-24 win.
This time, Southern allowed FAMU to come all the way back from the brink.
It was another frustrating loss for the Jaguar Nation, which came to Atlanta in full force, holding a slight edge in the stands Saturday, but left with nothing but disappointment.
So, too, did Mitchell.
“I asked ... every player that played in that game to raise his hand if he didn’t make a mistake. If he played a perfect game, I wanted him to raise his hand,” he said.
“And then I wanted every coach ... if they coached the perfect game, I wanted them to raise their hand. Not one person raised their hand. Therefore, we can’t point fingers. All of our mistakes, along with FAMU, contributed to us losing the ballgame.”
Mitchell later added: “That’s my loss. That’s my loss. Those guys work extremely hard. Players and coaches.”
And it started out so well.
These two storied rivals, who met every year from 1946-2001, had faced each other only twice since then. Saturday, they gathered in an explosion of colors — FAMU in orange with green trim; SU in blue helmets, gold jerseys and white pants.
Southern struck first when Joseph delivered a 41-yard bomb to wideout LaQuinton Evans. One play later, Sylvester Nzekwe scored from 1 yard away, and the Jaguars had an early 7-0 lead.
Nzekwe gave some life to a previously punchless SU running game, and the Jaguars finished with 252 yards of total offense in the first half.
The score remained close as halftime neared. That’s when Mitchell threw a curveball, replacing Joseph with freshman quarterback J.P. Douglas, who engineered SU’s longest scoring drive of the day — a 13-play march that ended with Nzekwe’s second touchdown, giving the Jaguars a 19-17 lead.
The good vibes continued for Southern in the third quarter. Byron Williams had a 79-yard punt return for a touchdown, and Rogers added his 59-yard interception return.
SU managed only 2 yards of offense in the second quarter, but Rogers’ touchdown gave the Jaguars a 16-point lead.
FAMU, meanwhile, looked out of rhythm an confused.
Then the game turned.
It started when Southern’s Jared Detrick tipped a punt attempt. The ball fluttered toward midfield, where SU linebacker Corry Roy tried to haul it in. Instead, the ball slipped through his hands, and FAMU recovered.
New quarterback Damien Fleming came in and led a touchdown drive, cutting into Southern’s lead.
Meanwhile, by the end of the third quarter, Douglas missed five straight passes (he finished 3-for-10), and suddenly, the Jaguars were out of rhythm.
Joseph, who had thrown one interception in the second quarter, returned to start the fourth quarter.
It was too late.
It didn’t help that Southern lost two offensive linemen — left tackle Chris Browne and left guard Zach Brown — to a pair of as-yet-undetermined injuries.
It also didn’t help that SU receivers dropped and tipped a handful of passes that should’ve been caught.
At any rate, Joseph failed to get the offense moving.
He completed 14 of 22 passes for 222 yards but was intercepted three times — thanks in part to a revamped Rattlers defense.
“We started faking, bluffing the blitz and keeping all 11 sets of eyes on the quarterback,” FAMU coach Joe Taylor said. “We probably played too much man-to-man (defense) early on, and they were able to hit a couple of big bombs on us. We decided to start getting back and playing more zone.”
With Southern’s help.
“Now the game is over,” Rogers said. “And we’re on the losing end of it.”