There was no mincing of words after Southern’s first meeting with Alcorn State this season.
The Jaguars offense crumbled under the pressure from the Braves defense and wasted a strong effort by the defense in a 20-3 loss on a rainy homecoming night at A.W. Mumford Stadium on Sept. 29.
Southern coach Dawson Odums said his team is a different group now that the teams are set for a rematch at Alcorn for the SWAC Championship at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
But it’s helpful to take a look back, even if all of Jaguar Nation wants to avert its eyes.
“Their defense shut us down,” tight end Jeremias Houston said. “It was homecoming; it hurt. Somebody coming into your backyard and beating you in front of friends and family at homecoming, that’s not a good feeling.”
The end of the game marked the beginning of the Jaguars' resurgence. They were 2-3 going into an open date and not looking like a team that was headed for the championship of anything. They haven’t lost since.
“I told the players 2-3 will not define you,” Odums said. “Another loss and we’re out of the conference race. I’m proud of the players and coaches rallying around each other and having that mindset to overcome. That’s what it’s been about since I’ve been here.”
Southern managed only 139 yards of offense. In seven first half possessions they punted five times, missed a field goal and had the half end. The only points came after a 60-yard kickoff return by Chris Chaney. Quarterback John Lampley was 9 of 26 passing for 59 yards and his one interception was returned for the clinching touchdown.
Defensively, Southern gave up only 164 yards in the first half and held the Braves to a field goal. Ultimately the defense wore down in the second half.
During the open week, the offensive staff made the move to LaDarius Skelton as starting quarterback. Odums said they knew his talent, but he had not yet grasped the playbook and performing at this level after two years in junior college.
Skelton kick-started the five-game winning streak and was named MVP of the Bayou Classic.
“We needed to do something differently offensively and create a spark,” Odums said. “We give guys a chance. It’s not about what other people think but how we run our program. Guys ahead of him in knowing what to do and how. They earned the right to be starting quarterback.
“After homecoming we had a bye week to get a game plan ready suited for LaDarius Skelton and his skill set. Since then we’ve been running plays to fit his skill set. It turned out to be the right decision. I’m proud of him. He handled the situation the right way.”
Alcorn State coach Fred McNair had to rebuild his coaching staff with six hires before the season, including Pat White, a dual-threat quarterback at West Virginia from 2004-08. White was a teammate of Alcorn offensive coordinator Ryan Stanchek with the Mountaineers.
White committed to LSU as a wide receiver but signed with West Virginia to play quarterback, where he was a Heisman Trophy candidate at one time.
McNair said White, 32, has been a good influence on Braves quarterback Noah Johnson.
“I tried him to get him on board two years ago,” McNair said. “We do some of the same stuff he did at West Virginia. It helps out with Noah in the progression reads and the way the running game is run. He fit right in. He doesn’t have an ego. He really wanted to get into coaching.”
Alcorn State defeated both Southern and Grambling and was clearly the SWAC’s best team during the regular season. So, how did the Braves lose, and to whom? It was one of those nightmarish games where a team piles up stats galore but ends up on the wrong side of the scoreboard.
In a 28-25 loss to Alabama State in five overtimes, the Braves outgained the visitors 530-240, but place-kicker Corey McCullough missed six field goals, one on the game’s final play from 28 yards out. De’Shawn Waller rushed for 214 yards and two TDs, but the Braves fumbled the ball away twice, once at the goal line. McCullough’s final miss came after Hunter Hanson made one from 37 yards for Alabama State.
Home state Braves
Alcorn has eight Louisiana natives on its roster, led by starting right guard Darius Davis, a former star at East Feliciana. Joining him are three New Orleanians, wide receiver Andre Martin (Clark); wide receiver Deion Richardson (Karr); and defensive lineman Kenneth Hagans (Sophie Wright). Others include offensive lineman Columbus Willis (White Castle); linebacker Brelion Hollis (Monroe/Ouachita); running back Kevon Marsh (Morgan City); and defensive back Allen Bruce (Lake Providence).
“He tells me to use my legs as a weapon and not a crutch.” — Alcorn quarterback Johnson on quarterbacks coach White.