By: Michael Hanich | Sports Editor
It has not been the best season for the South Alabama Jaguars football team in their second season under head coach Steve Campbell. The day after Thanksgiving was the last chance for the Jaguars to get their second win of the season against a tough Sun Belt Conference foe in the Arkansas State Red Wolves. This game was also the last home game for the Jaguars in Ladd-Peebles Stadium. South will play their home games in their new on-campus stadium next fall.
The Jaguars came into this game with the all lessons learned from the bad losses and shortcomings for Arkansas State. It was a back-and-forth fight, but South kept their foot on the gas. Even when the Jags lost their lead late in the game, they didn’t lose their hopes of winning this game. With some determination and great performances from some key players, the Jaguars (2-10; 1-7 in Sun Belt Conference play) upset the Red Wolves (7-5; 5-3) with a 34-30 score.
Senior night was special for some of the Jaguars, but it was especially big for senior running back Tra Minter. Last week in the 28-15 loss at Georgia State, Minter became the all-time career all-purpose leader for the South Alabama Jaguars football program. Minter was a consistent driving force for the Jaguars throughout the entire game. With the help of the offensive line, Minter rushed for 106 yards and a touchdown in the third quarter on 21 carries for an average of five yards per game. Minter became the first-ever 1,000-yard rusher of the season in Jaguars’ program history. The Red Wolves defense couldn’t find an answer to stopping the run game of the Jaguars as South averaged 4.5 yards per rush.
The Jaguars’ passing was at their best on Saturday against a Red Wolves’ defense that allows an average of 256.9 passing yards per game. Jaguars redshirt freshman quarterback Desmond Trotter and sophomore wide receiver Jalen Tolbert were on fire throughout the entire night by beating the Red Wolves’ secondary deep consistently. Desmond and Tolbert accounted for a 21-yard touchdown and a 30-touchdown near the end of the first quarter. The Jaguars were up 14-7 at the end of the first quarter and 20-17 at halftime. Trotter and Tolbert accounted for a 31-yard touchdown and 26-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Trotter passed for 279 yards, four touchdowns, and one interception on 20 completions (out of 31 attempts). Tolbert caught five receptions for 144 yards for an average of 36 yards per reception and four touchdowns. Tolbert’s four touchdowns are now a single-game record for most receiving touchdowns with four. This breaks the record set by wide receiver Jaylen Wayne’s three touchdowns in last season’s 31-28 victory over Coastal Carolina.
The defense for the Jaguars aggressive against a talented dual-threat Red Wolves’ offense. It was in the fourth quarter when the Jaguars lost their long lead over the Red Wolves with 3:51 minutes in the game. After South Alabama regained their lead with 1:18 minutes left in the game, the Red Wolves encountered momentum to score one more time. The first play of the drive, Jaguars defensive end Rocel McWilliams forced a fumble and that’s when defensive end Jeffery Whatley recovered the fumble.
The Jaguars’ defense accounted for three sacks, six tackles for loss, eight pass breakups, and six quarterback hits. Whatley accounted for four solo tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack, and one fumble recovery. McWilliams accounted for 3 total tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1.5 tackles for loss, and one forced fumble. S D.J. Daniels accounted for eight total tackles, five solo tackles, and one pass breakup. Cornerback Travis Reed accounted for four total tackles and led the team in pass breakups with three.
The Jaguars’ big performances in the first and the fourth quarter ultimately gave them enough momentum to get the big victory in their final game of the season. This victory is huge for the departing seniors including Minter, Reed, McWilliams, Whatley, Daniels, guard Roy Albritton, defensive tackle Jordon Beaton, wide receiver Tre’Veon Hamilton and many more seniors that contributed throughout the season and in this huge upset.