LORMAN, Miss. — It might be too much to ask any defense to overcome five turnovers, but Southern’s defense tried its best to make that happen.
That was too much for Southern on Saturday after Taurence Wilson’s 53-yard interception return produced the clinching touchdown in Alcorn State’s 39-24 win at the SWAC championship game.
The interception came with less than two minutes remaining — and the fact that Southern was still within eight points was a testament to the Jaguars' defense. Their pass defense in particular.
In Southern’s 27-13 loss at Alcorn State on Oct. 26, the Jaguars gave up 277 yards passing to Braves quarterback Felix Harper, who completed 19 of 26 passes with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Saturday was a different story.
Harper went through stretches in which the Alcorn offense was ineffective and finished 12 of 25 for 226 yards with two interceptions. His lone touchdown pass came on a busted coverage. Coupled with Southern’s sticky run defense, the Jaguars gave their offense chances to score more than it did.
“I thought (the secondary) played really well,” Southern coach Dawon Odums said. “You look at the first game (against Alcorn) this season, and I thought those guys answered the bell this time.
"Their play gave us chance, and it was good to see, because we knew they would get challenged. I take my hat off to those guys. They competed at a high level, and they really gave us a chance in the football game.”
Odums mentioned the play of cornerbacks Tamaurice Smith and Datrel Brunfield, and safeties Montavius Gaines and Benjamin Harris.
Gaines had six tackles, including one for a 7-yard loss. Brunfield finished with three tackles and had an interception.
Smith had the biggest impact, especially in the early going. He broke up two passes and had an interception in the first quarter. He broke up another pass in the second quarter, and added an even more important pass breakup in the fourth quarter.
With Southern holding a 24-22 lead, Alcorn had a second-and-goal at the SU 7. Harper’s pass to the end zone hit wide receiver Chris Blair in the hands, but Smith was there a split-second later to separate Blair from the ball.
Jakoby Papillion broke up Harper’s pass on third down, and the Braves had to settle for a field goal.
Despite seeing his team come up short, Odums was pleased with the way his defense responded to the challenge of facing Alcorn for the second time.
“We talked about it,” he said. “We knew there was going to be a lot riding on this and the defense had to step up and make some plays. I thought they did that. They bowed their backs up. We turned it over, then we’d get a turnover.”
Senior linebacker Calvin Lunkins led Southern with 12 tackles as part of a defense that wanted to do its part in winning the conference championship.
“I feel like the defense played a lot better (than in the first Alcorn game),” Lunkins said. “We really took it seriously. The defense felt like it was going to be on their backs to win the championship, and I feel like the defense played well.”