It happened less than 20 minutes after Southern gave away yet another game, blowing a fourth-quarter lead and losing to an old rival for the second consecutive week.
It happened less than 20 minutes after the Jaguars failed yet again to play a complete game from the opening kickoff to the final whistle. This time, Saturday evening inside the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, they squandered a 16-point second-half lead and fell apart in a 38-33 loss to Florida A&M.
Less than 20 minutes after the teams exchanged handshakes, Stump Mitchell was behind a microphone, addressing a dozen or so reporters, trying to explain how Southern lost for the 12th time in his 15 games as coach.
The question was simple: You had so many Southern fans come to Atlanta, spend a good bit of money getting here, and obviously, they just watched another frustrating loss. Where do you stand, and what do you tell the Jaguar Nation?
Mitchell’s answer was telling.
“I’ll tell the (Jaguar) Nation that I would love to be coaching at Southern University,” he said. “But let me tell you one thing: This is about business. It’s about wins and losses.”
Yes, the coach is in the second year of a three-year contract. But he seems to know he can’t afford to absorb many more losses like Saturday’s heartbreaker.
Forget about the fact that Southern, as a team, looks much better than it did last season.
Forget about the fact that Southern, facing a tough September schedule, was within perhaps a half-dozen plays of being 3-1 right now — a nearly unthinkable feat when preseason camp began.
Forget about the fact that Southern had two old rivals, Jackson State and FAMU, on the ropes during the second half in back-to-back games.
Mitchell said it himself: It’s about wins and losses.
And right now, the Jaguars are 1-3.
They are 1-3 largely because they haven’t yet played a complete game.
Need proof? Consider this: Opponents have outscored Southern 27-0 in the fourth quarter this season.
Even in the Jaguars’ lone victory, against Alabama A&M, they didn’t exactly finish strong. SU had a 21-3 lead and went on auto-pilot after halftime, winning 21-6.
Saturday, the Jaguars were in a nip-and-tuck battle with FAMU in the first half. Then, things got weird. Mitchell pulled his starting quarterback, sophomore Dray Joseph, in favor of freshman J.P. Douglas.
Mitchell has said all along he wants to give Douglas at least a few series each week (he has done so in three of the first four games).
Saturday, he threw Douglas into the huddle during the closing minutes of the second quarter — and Douglas excelled, leading the team on its longest, most inspired drive of the day, giving SU a 19-17 halftime lead.
The problem was, Douglas didn’t stay hot. He stayed in the game after halftime and misfired on all five pass attempts in the third quarter, when Southern’s offense gained a grand total of 2 yards on two possessions.
The Jaguars grew their lead to 33-17 in the third quarter, thanks to Byron Williams’ 79-yard punt return and Demetric Rogers’ 59-yard interception return.
But the offense was stagnant, and by the time Joseph re-entered the huddle, at the start of the fourth quarter, he’d lost whatever rhythm he might’ve had.
“When I got back in, I came back kind of sluggish,” Joseph said. “I completed a few passes, but I just think the game speed seemed a little bit faster to me.”
So here they are, at 1-3 with seven games to go.
This week, the team faces Mississippi Valley State, an undermanned, overmatched team that is winless in 14 games under second-year coach Karl Morgan, the Houma native and former SU assistant.
But the Delta Devils showed life in a 43-34 shootout loss at Prairie View. If the Jaguars lose Saturday at Itta Bena, Miss., a semi-promising season will be in danger of flat-lining.
Not all is lost. Even though Southern can’t play for the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship, the Jaguars have seven games left. At the moment, they are only one game behind first-place Arkansas-Pine Bluff in the Western Division.
The coaching staff is loaded with assistants who have strong, diverse résumés.
And despite two fourth-quarter letdowns in the past two weeks, the Jaguars have played well. They are, dare we say, better than they were last season.
Still, they have to play better than they’ve played so far.
They have to play for four quarters, start to finish, opening kickoff to final whistle. They have to start winning if Stump Mitchell is to keep his job.
Because he might be running out of time.