TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A good drive here, a defensive stop there, the best quarter of football Southern has played in 2019 and a rally from a 17-point deficit to take a late lead were some of the pieces of Saturday’s game against Florida A&M here.
Unfortunately for the Jaguars, they didn’t add up to victory.
Southern suffered a nightmarish first half and the hometown Rattlers drove 97 yards for the winning points with 3:32 left in a 27-21 victory between the longtime HBCU rivals at Bragg Stadium.
Southern fell behind 17-0 in the first quarter and trailed 19-7 at the half. But quarterback Ladarius Skelton, benched for the third time in four games, rallied his team by passing for one touchdown and running nine yards for a go-ahead score on the first play of the fourth quarter.
But that was the end of the rally. A promising Southern drive that could have added to the lead was halted. Then FAMU senior quarterback Ryan Stanley finished the job he started with a 17-yard scoring pass to Xavier Smith for the winning score.
“We dug a hole in the beginning,” Southern coach Dawson Odums said. “We made some plays, got the momentum, took the lead. We were just inconsistent. You try to put your finger on one thing, but it really makes it tough to have a flow when you don’t have consistency.
“In the third quarter, we probably played our best football all year. But we were so far behind it took a lot out of us going into the fourth. We just didn’t finish the ball game. It was a tough one, one of the toughest I’ve had to endure.”
Southern (1-3) had numerous special teams gaffes and surrendered two safeties to the Rattlers (2-1). On top of that, Stanley riddled Southern by hitting 24 of 39 passes for 355 yards and two touchdowns, connecting nine times with Smith for 201 yards. The Rattlers outgained Southern 433-256.
But Southern appeared to get a handle on the game in the second half.
Skelton came off the bench to drive his team 74 yards to a score on his 23-yard TD pass to Jamar Washington in the third quarter and after an interception by Jakoby Pappillion. The Jaguars took the lead on Skelton’s 9-yard score.
The Southern defense came up with another stop and Skelton had a chance to add to the lead, but he was sacked on third-and-6 from the FAMU 38.
Southern was still in good shape when Cesar Barajas punted dead to the FAMU 3-yard line. On the first play Stanley found Smith behind Jaguar cornerback O.J. Tucker for 42 yards to get the drive rolling and connected with him on another 17-yard throw before the touchdown. A two-point conversion made it 27-21.
Southern got the ball back for one final try but had to start at its own 9-yard line because of a penalty on the kickoff. The rest of the drive included a false start penalty a sack and finally with his receivers blanketed, Skelton had to make a run for it and was chased out of bounds for no gain at the Jaguar 5-yard line.
Skelton was 11 of 18 passing for 114 yards and ran 14 times for eight net yards with three sacks. Southern had only 69 yards rushing after piling up 407 last week against Edward Waters.
“We just have to overcome adversity and move on to the next game; do what we have to do for next week,” Washington said. “It was a very hostile environment. We knew what we were coming into and knew we had to be prepared.”
The Jaguars found themselves trailing 17-0 before their offense made a first down, and had minus-two yards on six plays. There was no better illustration of their frustration than when Southern blocked an extra-point kick only to have FAMU holder Chris Faddoul pick up the ball and run for a two-point conversion.
Then the Rattlers drove 87 yards in eight plays after the defense forced a three and out. Southern helped out with a personal foul penalty by Caleb Carter but it was Stanley cutting up the Southern pass defense. He hit Smith for 17 yards on third-and-9 and later found George Webb on a post pattern for a 26-yard touchdown pass with 10:02 left in the quarter.
Southern made one of its myriad special teams blunders on the ensuing kickoff. Shykee Thomas fielded the ball just inside the goal line and slipped, falling forward with his knee touching and the ball at the 1-yard line. On the next play, Skelton was sacked in the end zone for a safety by FAMU’s Derrick Mayweather to make it 9-0.
The Jaguars stopped the next Rattlers drive on downs but again went three and out on offense. Stanley connected with Smith for 43 yards to put the ball at the Southern 5-yard line. The Jaguars defense held for two downs but wide receiver Azende Rey played a Wildcat quarterback and carried it over just before Faddoul’s two-point conversion.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Odums said. “It’s a short week. The conference opener is next. A lot of football and this team needs a whole lot of improvement.
“We’re going to have to regroup. Figure it out. Look at the whole thing, talk about it and get the right pieces. It was too big of a deficit. We played very sloppy football.”