Southern defeated Jackson State 34-27 in double overtime Saturday at Reliant Stadium in a game for the ages as the Southwestern Athletic Conference returned to Houston, its birthplace in 1920, for its 15th conference championship game.
It was the first double-overtime contest in championship game history, and the crowd of 38,895, the third-largest ever got its money’s worth. The game came within a shoe size of going into a third overtime. It ended with Jackson State quarterback Clayton Moore scrambling to his right and lobbing a pass to running back Tommy Gooden, who was wide open along the sideline in the end zone after running a wheel route. However, Gooden lost sight of where he was on the field and was on the out of bounds line when he caught the ball.
The referee ruled the pass was incomplete, a call which was upheld by video replay, and Southern its third title in the championship game era and the 19th in school history overall.
“It’s an honor,’’ said first-year Southern coach Dawson Odums. “God has been our side. For us to start 0-2 and some of our own beloved writing us off, to end our season as the 2013 SWAC champions, it’s an honor to say that. When we watched the film to show them of all the work they put in just to remind them that we’re supposed to be here and we have just as much right win this football game as Jackson State.‘’
Odums replaced Stump Mitchell as coach on an interim basis last season after the Jaguars got off to a 0-2 start. Southern won four of its remaining nine games in 2012, and that was good enough for Odums to have the interim tag removed from his title.
Odums said his team had additional motivation going into the championship after being snubbed in the voting for the all-conference team. Quarterback Dray Joseph, wide receiver Lee Doss and offensive linemen Anthony Mosley were the only first-team. No Jaguars were named to the second team.
“We know we weren’t the favorites,’’ Odums said. “We could tell by the selection of the All-SWAC team that we weren’t the favorites. I was very disappointed that you could be playing in the SWAC Championship Game and only have three guys who make the All-SWAC Team. Either something is wrong with the voting or the people who are voting aren’t watching football.’’
Joseph was also the Co-Offensive Player of Year. He shared the award with ‘Alcorn State running back Arnold Walker.
Southern and Jackson State have a history of playing cliffhangers, The Jaguars defeated the Tigers 31-30 in the inaugural conference championship game in Birmingham, Ala., site of the first 14 title contests.
Saturday’s game was a virtual replay of the team’s regular season contest in Baton Rouge, La. This time, however, the roles were reversed. In that game it was Southern that needed a touchdown at the end to win. However, quarterback Dray Joseph’s pass into the end zone with 42 seconds remaining was incomplete, and Jackson State emerged with 19-14 win.
Saturday’s outcome was what Odums predicted. He told his team the Jaguars would win by seven someone would have to make a play at the end to win the game..
“I should play the lottery,’’ he said.
For Jackson State, it was the second consecutive year that it has suffered a gut-wrenching loss in the championship game. Last year the Tigers lost to Arkansas-Pine Bluff 24-21 in overtime after leading the entire contest. They gave up a 95-yard touchdown pass in the final minutes of regulation for the tying points.
“It was anybody’s game there at the end,’’ Jackson State coach Rick Comegy said, adding that he had no quarrel with the ruling on the final play.
“He lost perception of field presence,’’ Comegy said. “When the throw was made, he was on the line. He was clearly on the line. It was a good call.’’
Jackson State, the East Division champion, was playing for the first time in three weeks, and the effects of the long layoff showed in the early going. The Tigers fell behind by 10 points twice in the first half while committing a number of critical mistakes. Moore’s fumble in the first quarter led to a 41-yard field by Greg Pittman. The Tigers helped Southern sustain the scoring drive with a roughing the kicker penalty.
A pass interference call against Qua Cox, Jackson State’s All-SWAC cornerback Qua Cox on a third-and-12 play in the second quarter, helped Southern sustain its second scoring drive, which ended with a 34-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Dray Joseph to Willie Quinn.
Another roughing the kicker penalty against Jackson State helped Southern sustain a drive that ended with Pittman kicking a 44-yard field goal that gave the Jaguars a 13-3 lead,
Jackson State drove 73 yards in five plays for a touchdown in the final minute of the first half to make the score 13-10. Moore tossed a 25-yard pass to tight end DeSean McKenzie for the score.
Southern extended its lead to 10 points again, 20-10, in the third period when Joseph and Quinn connected on 35-yard touchdown pass. But Jackson State rallied to take a 24-20 lead as Moore threw a 28-yard touchdown pass to second-team All-SWAC wide receiver Zach Pendleton and Antonio Sutton returned a fumble 11 yards for a touchdown.
Southern regained the lead with a 20-play, 99-yard fourth-quarter touchdown drive that took 9:55 off the clock. Joseph lived up to his All-SWAC credentials with a masterful performance on the drive. Joseph was 5-for-7 for 55 yards, and he ran for another 25 yards. The Jaguars were 4-for-4 on third down conversions, and they picked up a first down on a fourth down play when Jackson State was flagged for pass interference.
Darrius Coleman scored the go-ahead touchdown on a one-yard run with 4:57 left in the game after Joseph’s 13-yard scramble gave the Jaguars a first down at Jackson State’s one-yard line.
Jackson State tied the score at 27-all on Ryan Deising’s 37-yard field goal as time expired. Deising missed on his first attempt, but he got a second chance because Odum’s called timeout before the ball was snapped.
“It could have been over,’’ Comegy said. “We got another chance, and I’m saying to myself, ‘Jesus, it must be meant for us to win.’ I thought something good was going to turn in our favor.’’
Deising was 10-for-13 on field goals this season.
“I’m like, ‘of all the odds’,’’ Odums said. “We just tried to make him think about it. You roll the dice. In the last six games or so, he hadn’t missed a field goal. We just wanted to add a little pressure. He’s a great kicker. The odds were he was going to make it.’’
The teams were scoreless in the first overtime period. Jackson State got the ball first, but the Tigers’ possession ended without points when linebacker Anthony Belancier, came up with an interception. Belancier, who also forced a fumble in the first quarter, was the game’s defensive MVP.
Joseph found Doss behind Jackson State’s secondary for 16-yard touchdown after the Jaguars got the ball first in the second overtime. Joseph’s three touchdown passes gives him 73 for his career and makes him No. 1 on Southern’s all-time list. He was names the game’s Offensive MVP after throwing for 337 yards.
The win improved Southern’s record to 9-3 and gives the Jaguars one fewer victories than they had during the three previous seasons combined.
Eastern Illinois 51, Tenn. State 10 – The Tigers surrendered the most points that they have allowed in 11 years while losing in the second round of the FCS playoffs. The 51 points that Eastern Illinois scored, matched the total that Murray State scored against the Big Blue in 2002. Eastern Illinois, the No. 2 playoff seed, piled up 553 total yards, including 313 on the ground. Tennessee State ends the season 10-4.