Watching Southern put down rival Jackson State 41-7 Saturday night, it’d be impossible to tell that just one short month earlier, the last time the Jaguars played at home, they were in the throes of a potentially season-defining slump.
There were no bright spots to mention when Southern lost to Alcorn State 20-3 on homecoming night. The Jaguars were defeated at every level, and Southwestern Athletic Conference title contention seemed like a far-off fever dream.
Fast-forward a month, and there were positives everywhere.
Southern’s offense was efficient. The defense was dominant. Special teams were explosive. Even the crowd, at 20,575 strong, was the biggest at A.W. Mumford Stadium in three years.
Everything went right for the Jaguars. And for it, they were rewarded with a crushing win against their most hated rival.
It was just one of those magical nights.
“You have to say, when you look at a season, what was the turning point?” coach Dawson Odums said. “The (Alcorn) loss was the biggest thing. We lost homecoming, we sat around for two weeks and everybody wrote us off. But I’m big on mindset. It doesn’t matter what everybody else writes. It only matters if you believe it.”
What Southern is starting to believe is that this could be a special season.
The victory secured Odums’ sixth winning season in as many years as head coach, and more important it keeps Southern in control of its own destiny atop the SWAC Western Division.
For the first time this year, Odums drew comparisons between this team and the 2013 Jaguars who won the conference title on the back of a strong defense.
That defense was on full display against Jackson State.
The Jaguars did not allow an offensive touchdown for the second time in three games. The only points of the night for the Tigers came on a 42-yard punt return for a touchdown in the third quarter.
Southern made up for any deficiencies in its coverage, though, with three non-offensive touchdowns, including a pair of fumble recoveries taken back for touchdowns.
Senior cornerback Demerio Houston scored the first defensive touchdown of his career with a 42-yard scoop-and-score down the sideline in the the second quarter.
But it was once again freshman Jordan Lewis who stole the show with a strip sack that he was able to pick up and run into the end zone by himself. That, on top of his third consecutive outing with multiple sacks, led Odums to say Lewis could be a talent the likes of which Southern hasn’t seen for a long time.
With seven tackles for loss, Southern held the Jackson State offense to 229 yards, including 32 yards rushing.
Shontega Thomas rounded out the day for special teams with a 92-yard kickoff return for touchdown, marking the first such score for the Jaguars since Willie Quinn in 2015.
“Coach told us this was going to be a big game and good atmosphere,” Houston said. “We had to try to get a win and do whatever it takes.
“It was a great atmosphere. The fans were behind us and we were making plays, and they stayed in the game and we were making sure they stayed in the game.”
Even the offense, while not statistically proficient, fed off the defense’s energy to find a groove early.
Quarterback Ladarius Skelton opened the scoring with a 15-yard touchdown run on Southern's second possession and then followed it a few minutes later with a 27-yard scoring pass to wide receiver Trey Smith.
Southern has outscored opponents 59-0 in the first half of three games since the Alcorn loss.
Skelton threw for 61 yards on five completions and led the Jaguars with 89 yards rushing.
“It’s Jackson week,” wide receiver Kendall Catalon said. “I’m not from Louisiana, but I know when Southern plays Jackson — the whole week we had energy. We have to have the same energy no matter the opponent, but you saw tonight, we have to go hard against Jackson.”