Team Houdini did it again.
Southern has almost made a science of winning games that resemble escape acts, overcoming deficits large or late, or sometimes holding on to leads by the thinnest of margins and dodging disaster by making a timely play.
Saturday’s 30-28 victory against Grambling State in the 46th Bayou Classic encompassed all those scenarios.
The Jaguars fell behind 21-3, rallied to take a 24-21 lead, fell behind, 28-24 in the fourth quarter, rallied again to take the lead for good and then needed to block a field goal to close it out.
Been there, done that — many times.
“We were fortunate to win another football game when we didn’t play our best,” Southern coach Dawson Odums said after improving his record to 5-3 in Bayou Classic games. “We haven’t done it yet in all three phases. We play hard but we make games tough.”
Notching not-so-pretty wins is good enough and has the Jaguars going places, namely Alcorn State for the Southwest Athletic Conference championship game against their ultimate nemesis. Southern is 1-9 in its past 10 games against the Braves, including a 37-28 loss in the title game last season and a 27-13 defeat on Oct. 26.
Southern will have plenty to clean up in its execution on offense, defense and special teams. But there’s no worry about the 2019 team’s fighting spirit. The Jaguars, with a broad base of fourth- and fifth-year players, seem to get it done and seldom panic with their backs against the wall.
“Every coach wants to coach a team that will just fight, regardless of the adversity they face,” Odums said. “Being down 21-3, you look at our sideline. Are they energetic, in tune? Players make plays and finally we made some plays.”
Grambling scored two touchdowns with less than a minute ticking off the game clock after recovering a mishandled pooch kickoff and the game suddenly had a blowout vibe. But the Jaguars responded. Quarterback Ladarius Skelton hit Cameron Mackey with a 39-yard pass and finally the momentum shifted.
Skelton hit Hunter Register with a three-yard scoring pass, the first of two. The Southern defense pitched in with a defensive stop that resulted in a missed field goal. The Jaguars were rewarded soon after that with the biggest break of the game.
It looked like Southern would go into halftime trailing 21-10 when Skelton was stuffed on the Grambling one-yard line as time ran out in the first half. But the Tigers were offsides on the play, giving the Jaguars an untimed down. Odums played it like a poker chip, gambling on getting the touchdown rather than an easy field goal and freshman running back Jarod Sims cashed it in by plowing across the goal line.
The locker room might not have been exactly jubilant but the confidence was certainly oozing.
“They jumped offsides and gave us an opportunity,” Odums said. “We rolled the dice and made it 21-17. You saw the emotion, that was the swing in the game.”
The rest of the game was classic Bayou Classic. Three lead changes, big plays on both sides, the teams fighting to the end to win. Senior Joe Davis deflected two fourth-quarter field-goal attempts by Grambling and Sims, a role player-turned-hero, put the winning points on the board with a 36-yard scoring run.
Sims was illustrative of the Jaguars' strength. He started the season as a short-yardage back only but ended up playing a hero’s role. Odums ability to develop depth and get help from newcomers like Sims is part of the team’s inner core.
“If I want to go into an alley for a street fight, I want to go in with those guys that call themselves Jaguars,” Odums said, complimenting his team’s mental and physical toughness.
The next hurdle is one that has tripped the Jaguars up repeatedly. Just like playing Grambling, there isn’t a lot of mystery when Southern plays in Lorman.
“We know how to get there,” Odums cracked.
The next step is to crack the code to victory.
The Southern Quarterback Club is sponsoring a bus trip for the SWAC Championship Game at Alcorn State Saturday for a cost of $120, including a tailgate. Bus leaves at 9 a.m. For more information call 225-939-5906 or 225-931-1000.