Southern was looking to jumpstart its passing game Saturday night against Jackson State, and it didn’t take long to make a statement.
Quarterback Austin Howard was sharp from the beginning as he led Southern to a huge halftime lead and an eventual 50-31 win over its SWAC rival at A.W. Mumford Stadium.
Howard had thrown for 245 yards in Southern’s first two games, but he eclipsed that mark in the first half alone. In fact, Howard’s first half total of 336 yards was already a career high and bettered his 291 yards that came against Alabama State last year.
Howard finished 21 of 32 for 395 yards with a touchdown and one interception.
“He’s been waiting on a breakout game, and he finally had it,” Southern coach Dawson Odums said. “I thought he managed the game well. He had the one interception, but I’ll take that match up. Other than that I thought he played a complete game.”
The one interception came late in the first half with Southern at the JSU 6. Howard threw for Randall Menard in the right corner, but defensive back Justin Morgan wrestled the ball away for an interception.
The touchdown pass came three minutes into the game when Howard found Willie Quinn from 43 yards out. Quinn caught the ball at the JSU 23 and darted up the field for his first receiving score of the season.
Quinn led the Jaguars receivers with six catches for 107 yards. It was only the start for Howard, who was disappointed with his performance in last week’s 50-13 win over Mississippi Valley State.
“(Howard) said he didn’t think he played that well,” running back Lenard Tillery said. “I told him it didn’t matter as long as we won. He kept telling me, ‘I’m going to get 300 against Jackson State. I’m going to get 300.’ ”
Tillery did his part to help that happen by adding three receptions for 60 yards. He also had 135 yards rushing.
There were other high notes as well.
Randall Menard turned in his best game since being hurt in the 2014 season opener at Louisiana-Lafayette. Menard grabbed four passes for 83 yards, including a 43-yarder in the second quarter.
“It feels great to be back on the field with my brothers,” Menard said. “The down time gave me time to think. It felt great playing the way I know I can play.”
Tight end Montrell Jones had one reception coming in but caught three passes for 30 yards. He had a chance for one more late in the first half but bobbled and dropped Howard’s pass at the JSU 25 with open field ahead.
Jackson State closed to within 38-24 in the second half, but Howard and the Southern offense heated back up to put the game out of reach. It was the final piece of Howard’s best performance to date as Southern’s quarterback.
“Big time players make big plays at big times,” Howard said. “I was just trying to put myself in that position. I give all the credit to my teammates and coaches for putting me in that position to be successful.”