Southern University Jaguars linebacker Benjamin Harris (18) puts a big hit on a McNeese runner at Cowboy Stadium in Lake Charles, Louisiana on Saturday, August 31, 2019. (AP Photo/Lake Charles American Press, Kirk Meche)

LAKE CHARLES — Numbers don’t lie, but they don’t tell the whole story of Southern’s defensive effort in a 34-28 loss to McNeese State on Saturday night.

The Jaguars’ defense was put behind the eight-ball on four possessions that McNeese started deep in Southern territory. They held together until tiring in the fourth quarter.

“You can’t give teams the short field,” Southern coach Dawson Odums said. “It costs you all the time. I think they had four possessions probably inside 30 yards. Its hard to beat anybody when you do that.”

For the game, Southern lost five fumbles, a number that contributed to the Jaguars defense being on the field while McNeese ran 78 plays to Southern's 68. It took its toll in the fourth quarter, when McNeese gained 136 of its 303 total yards.

“I don’t know how many (downs) they played but you can’t play that many snaps,” Odums said. “They were on the field a lot, and it came from a lot of turnovers.”

McNeese had trouble moving the ball on its first two possessions, but a muffed punt gave the Cowboys their first scoring chance at Southern's 29. An invigorated Cowboys offense scored the game’s first touchdown six plays later.

Late in the first half, with Southern holding a 14-10 lead, McNeese recovered a Ladarius Skelton fumble at Southern's 14. The Cowboys converted the turnover into their second touchdown, and led 14-10 at halftime.

There were two more fumbles Southern lost in the third quarter. One led to a McNeese touchdown while the other brought a missed field goal.

“The defense held them a couple of times to 3 (points) and they gave us a chance,” Odums said. “I really thought they gave us a chance to win the football game and we just didn’t seize the momentum.”

Southern had momentum in the first half, but couldn’t sustain it. The Jaguars responded to McNeese’s first touchdown by taking a 14-7 lead in the second quarter. Sacks by Jalen Ivy, Ceajae Bryant and Jordan Lewis helped Southern thwart Cowboys quarterback Cody Orgeron in the first half.

Southern also flexed its defensive muscles when it controlled the McNeese running game. The Cowboys had just 31 yards rushing at halftime.

“Especially in the first half, we did a really good job against the run,” Ivy said. “They busted a couple for bigger gains later on in the second half, but other than that I feel like we did a pretty good job.”

Not surprisingly, Southern was stingy on third downs in the early going, too. McNeese converted just 5 of 14 through three quarters. That changed in the fourth quarter when Southern kept being called back to the field on defense.

“I guess we were (gassed) but I feel like we weren’t all the way locked in,” Ivy said. “Even when we’re down, we’ve got to lock in and be more disciplined.”

More discipline might have been enough for Southern on a night when its defense played well enough to give the Jaguars a chance to win.

“I really thought they gave us a chance to win the football game,” Odums said. “We just didn’t seize the momentum.”