The celebration, if you could call it that, was muted as the game clock ticked down to zeroes on Southern's 33-7 win against Texas Southern.
"I thought we came in with the right mindset to take care of business," said Jaguars coach Dawson Odums. "We understood what was at stake."
It was the sixth consecutive win for Southern (7-3, 5-1 Southwestern Athletic Conference), and it also set up yet another Bayou Classic clash with a trip to the SWAC title game on the line against Grambling, which remained undefeated in league play Saturday with a 24-7 win against Alabama State.
Odums was quick to remind anyone within earshot of where his team was before this win streak, back in September, when the Jaguars blew a 24-10 first-half lead to Alcorn State and dropped to 1-3 and 0-1 in SWAC play.
"Everybody wrote us off, but that's OK; good thing we don't have to cash their checks," Odums said. "We know ours don't bounce."
Saturday's victory wasn’t flawless or flashy. It was a no-nonsense win, a businesslike performance that allowed a few pieces of flair for the enjoyment of the large mass of blue and gold that made the trip.
Quarterback Austin Howard turned in an efficient 23-for-34 night, throwing for 203 yards and a score. He got 11 receivers involved in the passing game, with none catching more than four passes.
Senior running back Herb Edwards continued to show his value as a playmaker out of the backfield, rushing for 159 yards on 18 carries with a touchdown. It was his fifth 100-yard rushing performance in Southern’s six-game win streak, with the lone outlier being a 96-yard effort last week against Prairie View.
"It's win or go home at this point," Edwards said.
With Edwards leading the way, Southern amassed 298 rushing yards, even as Texas Southern spent the entire game daring Southern to do anything but rush.
"They loaded the box, they played with six-, seven- and eight-man fronts, and still we were able to run the football," Odums said.
The Southern defense suffocated a Texas Southern team that tried in vain to attack the Jaguars with the same run-heavy attack it used effectively a week before against Mississippi Valley State.
The Jaguars shut out Texas Southern for the first three quarters — allowing just 7 passing yards in the first 45 minutes — and allowed 212 yards for the entire game. Southern dwarfed that figure with 501 yards of its own.
"If they don't score, they can't win," defensive back Demerio Houston said.
Even the special teams — which continued having rough patches in the kicking game with a missed field goal, a blocked extra point and a blocked punt — contributed with a 74-yard punt return touchdown on a sort of a trick play.
Odums notoriously finds little things here and there to harp on, but his only complaint about anything his team had control of Saturday night was his team's 81 penalty yards.
Texas Southern was never in a position to threaten Southern’s hold on the contest.
Edwards had already topped the century mark by the end of the first quarter, and he jolted some electricity into a game that saw the teams trade missed field goals and three-and-outs in the early portions of the game.
On the third play of Southern’s third drive, Edwards broke a scoreless tie when he patiently allowed his blocks to develop on an off-tackle run, found a crease, and raced through it for a 71-yard touchdown that made it 7-0.
"I had to slow play it and let my O-line do what it does best," Edwards said.
Southern methodically built on that lead while its defense clamped down like a vice on Texas Southern.
A 13-0 halftime lead swelled to 26-0 by the end of the third quarter after a Howard touchdown pass to Dennis Craig — Howard’s 10th in the past three games — and Houston’s punt-return touchdown.
"I tried to explain to them, 'It don't have to be like that guys; we can create separation and not have these close games,'" Odums said.
When Texas Southern finally broke through with a score of its own, a 12-yard touchdown scamper by quarterback Elijah Odom, Southern followed with another touchdown drive, ending with a 2-yard run by redshirt freshman Chris Chaney.
For the third time in the past four years, Southern will need a victory against archrival Grambling in the Bayou Classic to continue its season. Last year, both were unbeaten in SWAC play heading into the Classic, a game Southern lost 52-30.
"Last year, we came up a little bit short," Odums said. "This year, we hope that story is wrote a little bit different."