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Southern University Devon Benn (2) fights off a defender from Valley during the Southern University vs Mississippi Valley football game at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson,MS on September 26,2021. (Photo by Jared Thomas)

JACKSON, Miss. — Southern’s defense cleaned up some of its tackling issues from last week but ran into a few other problems while hanging on to knock off Mississippi Valley State 38-25 on Sunday.

The Devils gave graduate transfer quarterback Jalani Eason his first start, and combined with running back Caleb Johnson, they gave the Jaguars fits at times. The Devils also confused Southern with tempo offense.

Coach Jason Rollins said the issue wasn’t the tackling but “run fits,” which is players sticking to their assignments.

“All it takes is one mistake for it to be six (TD),” Southern safety Jakoby Pappillion said. “A couple people don’t do their jobs. But we held together and came through at the end. We have to learn to stay together throughout the game. You can’t come out lax.”

Southern led 24-6 at halftime, held Valley to 118 yards and stopped the Devils four out of five times on third down. But the Devils roared out of the locker room for a 75-yard, 10-play drive capped by Eason's second touchdown pass.

Southern’s offense answered to make it 31-13, but when the Jaguars were unable to take advantage of an interception at the Devils' 22 by Pappillion, MVSU cranked up its hurry-up offense to scoot 74 yards in five plays to remain close.

Big plays killed the Jaguars. Valley had nine plays of at least 13 yards, and finished 5 of 11 on third-down conversions. The Devils scored on all four red-zone opportunities.

Finally the Jaguars' pass rush, which produced three sacks, got to Eason with a game-clinching takedown.

“We knew that was going to be the play to put their lights out," Pappillion said.

Not planned

Rollins said the Jaguars weren’t intending a fake punt on fourth-and-7 from their 28-yard line midway through the fourth quarter. Martell Fontenot took off running and was stopped well short of the first down, giving Valley a chance to cut into Southern’s 13-point lead.

Fontenot was trying to avoid the rush that got on him quickly.

“It was not a fake at all,” Rollins said. “He actually stepped in a hole, and when he looked up he saw the rush coming at him so he just ran. We would never fake a punt in that situation.”

Fontenot got banged up on the play, causing Rollins to go for it on fourth down on Southern’s next possession.

Sitting out

Southern RB Devon Benn sat out the first half because of a second-half targeting call on an interception return against McNeese State on Sept. 18. Craig Nelson started in his place but was injured in the first quarter and did not return, forcing freshman Kobe Dillon and WR Brandon Hinton into action. Benn played the second half and rushed for 45 yards on 11 carries. With a week off coming up and the expected return of Jerodd Sims, the Southern running back position should be at full strength when it plays Texas Southern on Oct. 9.

Numerology

Southern improved to 39-9 in the series. ... Southern improved its winning streak against MVSU to five games. ... Vincent Dancy is now 3-25 in four seasons as Valley's head coach. ... Travis O’Connor scored his first career TD on the last of McDaniel’s five scoring passes for Southern. ... Jordan Eastling blocked MVSU's first PAT kick.

Captains

The Southern captains were QB Glendon "Bubba" McDaniel and DT Camron Peterson.