As Jackson State travels to Baton Rouge for its annual clash with archrival Southern on Saturday night at A.W. Mumford Stadium, the Tigers feature one of the most feared offenses in the conference led by a star at quarterback.

Casey Therriault needs little introduction for Southern and its fans. Sure, he was the Walter Payton Award winner and the Southwestern Athletic Conference’s newcomer of the year last season, as well as its preseason offensive player of the year.

But before those accolades came, it was his signature play that snatched victory right out of the Jaguar Nation’s grasp last October.

Down by four, JSU got the ball at its own 36-yard line with 15 seconds remaining in the game. Following an offside penalty against Southern, Therriault completed a 31-yard pass to Renty Rollins, which brought the Tigers to the Jaguars’ 28-yard line with 9 seconds remaining.

What happened next was devastation for Southern, yet triumph for Therriault and his teammates.

Therriault dropped back and tossed a 28-yard pass to wide receiver Rico Richardson, who scored with 2 seconds left, giving the Tigers a 49-45 win.

“I threw the ball down the middle for 30 yards (to Rollins), and when we caught that pass, it kind of resurrected us,” Therriault said. “Rico came to me and said he was ready to make a play, and I was able see the man-to-man coverage and get him the ball.”

In fact, this was the second touchdown drive Therriault — who threw for 317 yards and five touchdowns against Southern — completed in the final minute. He’d earlier led a hurry-up offense to take a 41-38 lead with 38 seconds to play.

Therriault’s mastery of the comeback is not exclusive to last-minute drives, however.

What’s made the Therriault story so compelling is a combination of how well and how hard the senior plays the game with how much this game has helped him make his own personal comeback.

Go back to a few years ago. Fresh off of a strong sophomore campaign in which he threw for 2,169 yards and 24 touchdowns at Grand Rapids (Mich.) Community College, Therriault did not receive the attention from big-time college programs that his stats warranted.

The reason for schools’ reluctance: Therriault spent six months in jail from January to June of 2009 after he pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter for his limited role (one of six defendants) in the beating death of Jonathan Krystiniak during a fight outside a Grand Rapids bar.

The 6-foot-3 205-pound quarterback, however, did receive interest from a few Football Championship Subdivision teams but felt the most comfortable when he visited Jackson State. Therriault said the coaches really stuck out to him, and playing for JSU was his best opportunity.

While most teams shied away from Therriault because of his past, Jackson State coach Rick Comegy and his staff were interested in the strong-armed quarterback. They flew Therriault down to Jackson, Miss., to see what type of person he was.

“He fit right into our program,” Comegy said. “From his leadership, to his desires and goals. We got a guy with a lot of quality and class, which is what people gravitate to.”

Therriault has relished his opportunity, and Comegy — who has been in coaching since 1975 and has led teams to an NAIA national championship, a black college national title and a SWAC title — called him the hardest working player he has ever coached.

Therriault led the Tigers to an 8-3 record last season and finished with 3,436 yards and 31 touchdowns.

With Therriault’s success, news spread about his story and the national media, like ESPN, came running. Articles were published, videos were shot, but Therriault remained humble. And, as Comegy said, Therriault still has that little boy inside of him that loves the game.

“He has fun doing what’s he’s doing,” Comegy said. “He’s running and laughing during practice, teasing the guys that he’s first and they’re last.

“He is a star.”

Therriault currently leads the SWAC in all major passing categories with 555 passing yards, four touchdown passes and 42 completions. And he has the Tigers off to a 2-0 start.

With the drive, leadership and production, Therriault may get a shot to play at the next level. But for now Therriault isn’t worried about that. He just wants to win.

“I want to be known for being able to put my heart down on every snap, no matter how many seconds are on the clock,” Therriault said, “I’m going to fight to win the game. I epitomize winning.”