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Road to the Celebration Bowl

Southern University prevails 14-8 to win MEAC/SWAC Challenge over S.C. State

It was late-game defense on both sides that determined which team won this one

Southern University, behind the offensive work of Austin Howard, Devon Benn and Herbert Edwards, proved it had the staying power to beat South Carolina State University, 14-8, in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge on Sunday in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

It was a close game throughout, closer in the second half because of the stiffening S.C. State defense, led by preseason MEAC Defensive Player of the Year linebacker Darius Leonard, who became the Bulldogs’ all-time leading tackler during the game.

The Bulldogs had a chance to win late in the fourth quarter, but a dropped wide-open pass by receiver Jermaine Baxley on about the 5-yard line sealed their fate.

It was the play of Southern’s offense in the first half that set the tone for the game, which was 7-0 after the Bulldogs scored on their second drive on a 27-yard run by Benn.

Eric Lars Bakke / ESPN Images

Howard was on point in the first half and finished the game 18-of-31 passing for 198 yards and one interception. On the first drive of the second quarter, Howard scored on a quarterback keeper over the left side after a 33-yard pass to Benn set up the score from the 6. The touchdown, which put Southern up 14-3, culminated an 11-play, 77-yard drive, its longest of the day.

After an interception by linebacker Dayshawn Taylor with less than two minutes remaining in the first half, Southern’s Tyler Scandrett kicked his second field goal, making the score 14-6 at halftime.

“We got our shot at the end and didn’t quite make it happen,” said S.C. State coach Oliver “Buddy” Pough. “They couldn’t stop us at the end, but we weren’t consistent enough. We have to do a lot of things better.”

Pough said the game turned on the Bulldogs’ 0-for-10 on third-down conversions. Southern was 11-for-19. And two turnovers at critical times didn’t help either.

“We weren’t consistent enough to put drives together,” said Pough. “But it was not the offensive effort that we probably needed to have. Trying to win on the road, we need to do things better.”

Eric Lars Bakke / ESPN Images

S.C. State’s defense played solidly in the second half, shutting down the Jaguars, holding them scoreless and recording a safety after a blocked punt midway through the third quarter. They were led by Leonard, who had one sack to go along with 12 tackles.

“Defense played outstanding. Defense was the strength of the game, this game,” said Howard, who left the game midway through the fourth quarter with an injured knee after a sack and was replaced by freshman QB Glendon McDaniel.

Howard said afterward that he felt good enough to go back in the game, but Southern coach Dawson Odums said that with the game close and time winding down, he felt the Jaguars could run the ball and rely on their defense.

Although injured, “I always want to go back in the game,” said Howard. “But Coach was just playing it safe. We have a long season ahead of us.”

Odums said: “It was a classic MEAC-SWAC battle; being in the MEAC, the defenses are usually tough. I knew coming in we were going to play against a talented front seven. It was a great test for us today.

“Our guys responded to being hit. I wanted to see how we’d respond to be being down, being challenged. Some young guys had to step up and make some plays. … I think we’ve got a good football team.”

L. Kasimu Harris for The Undefeated

Defensive back Danny Johnson, the defensive MVP of the game, blocked the Bulldogs’ last-gasp effort by batting down a pass to De’Montrez Burroughs in the last 22 seconds of the game. “When it was time to make a play, I had to make the play; I worked a lot on that this summer,” he said.

Said Odums: “If we can stay healthy, we’ve got as good as chance as anyone to win the SWAC.”

Next up for Southern will be an away game at Southern Mississippi on Sept. 9. S.C. State next plays Charleston Southern, also on Sept. 9.

Notable performances from the weekend

  • Howard freshman quarterback Caylin Newton put on quite a show in leading Howard to the big-time upset of UNLV, 43-40. He connected on 15 of 26 passes for 140 yards with one touchdown and had 190 yards on 21 carries while scoring two rushing TDs. Newton also scored the winning touchdown on a 4-yard run.

Newton was able to flourish with plenty of help from senior running back Anthony Philyaw, who was named the preseason MEAC Offensive Player of the Year. He had 20 carries for 71 yards, including two rushing TDs. Philyaw had three catches for 62 yards too. He finished the game with 133 total yards.

  • Tuskegee relied on a strong defensive effort, led by senior linebacker Osband Thompson and senior safety Jonah McCutcheon, to nip Alabama State 14-6. Thompson, a 6-foot, 200-pound senior, led the team with 14 tackles, two quarterback hurries and one forced fumble. The Golden Tigers linebacker was all over the field making plays against the Hornets. Although Alabama State racked up 367 total yards, the Hornets weren’t able to convert yards into points.Thompson had a lot to do with that. He has improved his game each year. He’s playing at a high level now and is regarded by many experts as one of the top defensive players in Division II. A year ago, he had 67 solo tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. McCutcheon has elevated his game as well. He made a huge play against the Hornets, returning an interception 46 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter to help Tuskegee seal the win.
  • North Carolina A&T quarterback Lamar Raynard completed 19 of 22 passes for 321 yards and three touchdowns in a 45-3 win over Gardner-Webb.
  • Alcorn State quarterback Lenorris Footman rushed for two touchdowns and threw for another in a 50-21 win over Miles College. Footman had 241 yards passing and 92 rushing in this contest.
  • Virginia State running back Trenton Cannon had 26 carries for 145 yards in a 14-10 win over Norfolk State to win the Labor Day Classic.

Donald Hunt contributed to this report.

John X. Miller is senior editor for news and commentary for The Undefeated. He's a father, jazz aficionado and diehard UNC basketball fan.