Jaguars claim SWAC title in 34-27 thriller
HOUSTON – Persevere.
It is what Southern quarterback Dray Joseph said he did throughout his career on The Bluff.
It is also what the Jaguars did late against Jackson State in the Toyota Southwestern Athletic Conference Championship Game Saturday. Joseph’s 16-yard touchdown pass to Lee Doss in the second overtime lifted the Jaguars past the Tigers 34-27 at Reliant Stadium.
“The biggest thing is just to remain poised,” said Joseph, the SWAC’s co-Offensive Player of the Year. “The whole season we’ve faced adversity, so we understand how to just remain calm in those types of situations. It just enabled us to be successful.”
The win gives Southern (9-4) its 18th SWAC title and first conference crown since 2003 while Jackson State (8-4) suffered its second-straight overtime SCG loss.
Joseph threw for 337 yards and three scores – eclipsing Bryant Lee’s career touchdown pass mark – to earn SCG Offensive MVP honors. The former West St. John Ram also eclipsed Quincy Richard's record for single season passing yards throwing for 3,573 yards.
Doss finished with 10 catches for 125 yards and one score while Willie Quinn caught seven passes for 142 yards and two touchdowns.
“For us to start 0-2 and some of our own beloved writing us off, to end our season as 2013 SWAC champions … it’s an honor,” head coach Dawson Odums said. “We watched a film this morning that showed them all the work they put in just to remind them we’re supposed to be here and we had just as much right to win this game as Jackson State did.”
Southern led 20-10 in the third quarter until Jackson State swung momentum late in the quarter. Clayton Moore threw a 28-yard touchdown pass to Zach Pendleton to cut the Jags’ lead to 20-17 with 2:49 remaining in the quarter. On Southern’s next possession, Lenard Tillery was stripped near the Jaguar 11-yard line and Antonio Sutton scooped up the fumble and scored to give the Tigers a 24-20 lead at the 2:36 mark.
The Jaguars opened the fourth quarter on their own 1-yard line and began to methodically march downfield. Joseph engineered a 20-play, 99-yard drive, capped by Darrius Coleman’s one-yard touchdown plunge with 4:57 remaining in regulation. Gregory Pittman’s PAT gave the Jaguars a 27-24 lead.
JSU drove deep into Jaguar territory in the final minute of regulation. A Southern face mask penalty gave the Tigers a first-and-goal near the Jaguars’ five-yard line with 24 seconds remaining. However, Moore nearly fumbled the ball away on first down, and Christian Allen sacked Moore near the Jaguars’ 20 on second down. Ryan Diesing’s 37-yard field goal as time expired sent the game into overtime.
Southern’s defense came up with a big play to end JSU’s first overtime possession. Moore’s pass to Pendleton was tipped up and Anthony Balancier intercepted it to end the JSU possession. Southern tried to win the game on the leg of Pittman, but his 39-yard attempt was blocked by Canard Brown to send the game into a second overtime.
Southern’s offense took over in the second overtime. Joseph hooked up with Doss on third-and-7 to give the Jaguars a first down near the 14-yard line. Two plays later, Joseph found Doss open along the sideline for a 16-yard touchdown toss. Pittman’s PAT gave the Jags a 34-27 lead.
“We owed it all to these seniors,” Odums said. “They’ve started something special this year. They didn’t give up. They didn’t give in. Look at what happens when you stay together.”
A Southern pass interference call gave JSU a first-and-goal at the seven-yard line. The Southern defense swarmed JSU running back Tommy Gooden near the five-yard line, and Moore misfired on a pass on second-and-goal. The Jaguars’ defense stuffed Moore near the five on third-and-goal, setting up an all-or-nothing fourth down for JSU.
Moore scrambled to his right and threw for Gooden in the end zone, but Gooden was out of bounds as he caught the ball.
“I was bracketing No. 82 (Pendleton), their best receiver. So I had inside coverage,” said Balancier, who earned defensive MVP honors for his 11-tackle performance. “I don’t know how the running back got out of the backfield. I saw that his feet weren’t in. So I was like ‘Yeah, we won this game.’ It was a good call by coach Odums, and we just executed it.”