JACKSON, Miss. — Southern’s defense allowed 308 yards rushing to Jackson State, by far the most it has allowed all season, but its defense fought back to play a key role in the Jaguars 40-34 win Saturday afternoon at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium.
Trailing 24-17 at halftime, Southern got all the second-half stops it needed, allowing the Jaguars to rally. Jackson State was held to a third-quarter field goal until its final drive of the game. By then, Southern had surged into a 13-point lead, and it held up despite a late score by the the Tigers.
“Both defenses struggled in the first half,” Southern coach Dawson Odums said. “It came down to which defense was going to force its will in the second half and play much better football.”
That defense turned out to be Southern's.
Of Jackson State’s 308 yards rushing, 135 came in the second half — but 70 yards came on one play. JSU’s Keshawn Harper, who finished with 208 yards, took an inside handoff through a huge hole for 70 yards late in the third quarter.
But after he was tackled at the SU 10, Southern’s defense clamped down. The Jaguars forced the Tigers to settle for Zach Gleaton’s 25-yard field goal and a 27-26 lead, but it was only for a moment.
“You’ve got to be locked in on every play,” Odums said. “They ran the ball ... not to my liking. They had 300-something yards rushing. That’s not good rush defense, and we’ve been pretty good against the run.”
Following Gleaton’s field goal, Brandon Hinton returned the kickoff 87 yards for the go-ahead touchdown and a 33-27 Southern lead. There were tense moments still to come, but Southern’s defense was up to the task.
“In the second half, we just told the defense that we’ve got to pick it up,” SU linebacker Calvin Lunkins said. “I felt like it would be on us to decide whether we would win or not.”
With the help of a facemask penalty, Jackson State moved to midfield late in the third quarter, leading to two big stops.
On third-and-1 at the SU 44, JSU quarterback Jalon Jones ran left looking for the first down marker, but linebacker Caleb Carter was there. Carter knocked the ball loose, and it rolled out of bounds for a 3-yard loss.
Needing to seize momentum of its own, Jackson State went for it on fourth-and-4 and came away empty. Joe Davis and Davin Cotton stopped Harper for a 1-yard loss, and momentum stayed with Southern.
The best defensive numbers were turned in by lineman Jalen Ivy, who had a team-high seven tackles. Included in that number were two of Southern’s four sacks and four tackles for loss. Carter finished with six tackles, and Tamaurice Smith, Montavius Gaines and
Lunkins each had five tackles.
Defensive back Jakoby Pappillion had Southern’s only interception, but it was a big one.
Early in the second quarter, after Jones’ 55-yard run brought Jackson State a first down at the SU 20, Pappillion picked off a pass intended for Warren Newman in the end zone.
The turnover, which Southern converted into an 80-yard touchdown drive, was one of the few first-half highlights for the Jaguars defense. The second half was a different story.