On Saturday night at A.W. Mumford Stadium, Southern was well positioned to please its fans and make up for its homecoming disaster four weeks ago, not to mention a season full of second-half collapses and missed opportunities.
The Jaguars had heated rival Jackson State on the ropes in front of a season-best crowd of 25,379, but it ended as just another heartbreak. The Southwestern Athletic Conference-leading Tigers scored twice in the final six minutes for a stunning 21-17 victory.
JSU freshman quarterback Shedeur Sanders threw a 50-yard touchdown pass to Malachi Wideman with 1:31 remaining for the winning points. Southern, which scored only three second-half points, tried to rally, but Bubba McDaniel’s pass was intercepted at the goal line by Shilo Sanders to ice the game.
The end was marred a by postgame pushing and shoving match between multiple groups of players and sideline attendants. The melee lasted for several uncomfortable minutes as law enforcement personnel rushed to intervene.
The result was double gut-punch for the Jaguars (4-6, 3-4 SWAC), who are guaranteed their first losing season since 2012. Although the defense allowed two TDs in the final 5:34, the offense had to bear an equal share of the blame for its inability to take advantage of opportunities to put the game away.
“We couldn’t get a score when we needed it and couldn’t get a stop at the end, so we came up short,” Southern coach Jason Rollins said. “I’m disappointed for our guys for the effort they put in; disappointed for our fans because they showed up and were very supportive and we couldn’t get over the hump. This is on me.”
Rollins declined to comment on the postgame melee, and players were not made available for interviews.
The victory clinched the East Division title for JSU (9-1, 7-0) and snapped its eight-game losing streak in the series. The Tigers play their regular-season finale at home against Alcorn State, which still has a chance to win the West and play JSU in a title-game rematch two weeks later.
Southern played its best defensive game of the season in holding JSU to fewer than 200 yards until the final two drives (the Tigers finished with 311 for the game). The Jaguars sacked Shedeur Sanders three times and baffled him at times by mixing defenses and pressuring him.
Shedeur Sanders entered the game with a 67.4% completion rate and connected on 20 of 34 passes, but Glenn Brown and Jakobi Jones each intercepted passes to stop JSU drives.
“We played several different coverages,” Rollins said. “We tried to find a way to eliminate the explosive plays by the receivers by mixing coverages, making him find his targets post-snap, not pre-snap.”
The offense used the running game to attack's JSU strength in the defensive line. Jerodd Sims rushed for 98 yards on 25 carries, including a 21-yard scoring run for a 7-0 lead in the first quarter.
The offense missed a golden opportunity after Tyran Nash recovered a JSU fumble just before halftime. The Jaguars had fourth-and-goal inside the 1-yard line, but Sims couldn’t get into the end zone as the half expired. An official replay review confirmed the call.
“We felt getting seven points would be huge,” Rollins said. “It was a half a yard and we were able to get that on a consistent basis. I felt confident in our O-line to get 1 yard. They reviewed it and said he didn’t get in, so he didn’t get in.
McDaniel hit 16 of 24 passes for 176 yards. His 32-yard TD pass to tight end Gregory Perkins gave Southern a 14-7 lead in the third quarter. Southern extended it to 17-7 on a 36-yard field goal by Luke Jackson with 4:15 left in the third quarter.
Southern stopped the visitors on each of their next two possessions, but JSU got the ball with 7:39 remaining. Missed tackles aided a 22-yard Shedeur Sanders completion, and he later hit Wideman with a 13-yard TD throw with 5:42 left to cut the lead to 17-14.
On Southern’s next possession, McDaniel fumbled a snap on first down to put the offense behind the chains, and the Jaguars punted two plays later, setting up JSU’s winning drive. Wideman appeared to push off on Southern defender Robert Rhem and was wide open for the scoring play.
“When I looked up, I saw our guy on the ground and the other guy was moving,” Rollins said of the decisive TD play. “I didn’t see the beginning; I saw the end. It’s a possibility (that Wideman pushed off), but I can’t be sure.
“You’ve got to win your one-on-ones. They threw it up to the big guy. You have to contest it. They won their one-on-one.”