Unlike its peers in the Southwestern Athletic Conference West division – where four schools have one loss and are vying for the top – Texas Southern has an unlikely path to being crowned. The Tigers (1-4, 0-2 in the SWAC) must run the table and see multiple stumbles from division leaders Prairie View, Grambling, Alcorn State, and Southern.
Bethune-Cookman’s prospects in the SWAC East aren’t any brighter (1-4, 0-2), as Florida A&M has yet to lose a conference game, and Jackson State has lost only one. Odds and the remaining schedule suggest one of those schools will claim the division title.
But there’s always something to play for once hopes of contending fade.
For the Wildcats, losers of three straight games, their list includes a victorious homecoming when well-rested Texas Southern visits on Saturday. Bethune is coming off last week’s inspiring, hard-fought defeat against Alabama State, which staved off fourth-and-goal in the closing seconds to triumph, 19-14.
“We had a great time at Alabama, although the ball didn’t fall where we wanted it to fall,” Bethune coach Raymond Woodie said Monday on the SWAC media session. “We ended up playing one half, and we definitely have to finish the second half. We got an opportunity in the fourth quarter with a big interception but couldn’t put it in from inside the 10. We just gotta learn how to finish.”
Texas Southern finally finished with a win two weeks ago, a 52-7 thumping of Division II Lincoln (CA). The Tigers used their bye week to heal physically, shore up weaknesses, and continue building the offense with Jace Wilson under center. Junior Andrew Body – a preseason All-SWAC – was expected to be the starting quarterback, and he played in the opener against Prairie View. But he’s been sidelined ever since and won’t return this year.
“After multiple doctor visits and conversations with my family, we have decided that it’s necessary for my health to proceed with a medical redshirt this season,” Body announced on Instagram shortly before the Tigers beat Lincoln. “It wasn’t an easy decision; it was very disappointing to be unable to compete in football this season. But I do look forward to next year. God willing, I will be 1000%.”
Head coach Clarence McKinney said Body, voted a team captain, has been totally engaged as a leader in assisting Wilson and the other quarterbacks. Against Lincoln, Wilson posted season-highs in passing attempts (25), completions (16), yards (159), and completion percentage (64%), his third consecutive game without an interception.
“With Jace, it’s about getting reps, and we spent a lot of time getting him prepared within our scheme, getting him a lot of reps during the bye week,” McKinney said during the media call. “We’re just getting him more comfortable as far as being the No. 1 guy opposed to being the No. 2 guy. He has the keys to the car right now, and it’s our job as coaches to get him as prepared as possible.”
Texas Southern leans on its rushing attack, second in the SWAC at 177.4 yards per game, paced by halfback LaDarius Owens (80.8 yards per game). Owens rushed for a season-high 139 yards against Lincoln, while backfield mate Jacorey Howard added a season-high 94 yards and three touchdowns. McKinney said the Tigers could be more productive through the air by reducing dropped passes, a continued point of emphasis. They average 13.6 completions per game, second lowest in the conference.
“We’ve been working on drills with them all season and throughout the offseason,” McKinney said. “It’s just a matter of guys going out and doing their job, concentrating and focusing on the ball and taking care of the ball when they get their opportunities.”
Woodie, in his inaugural season, is looking for his first SWAC victory coaching his alma mater. Homecoming offers a chance to celebrate the 2013 Wildcats, who 10 years ago won the Mideastern Athletic Conference championship and advanced to the NCAA playoffs. Bethune is also marking the football program’s 100th anniversary.
The Wildcats have scheduled a ceremonial ribbon-cutting for their first on-campus practice field. The team is already using the facility, saving trips from campus to their home field at Daytona Municipal Stadium several times per week. The next phase of construction includes a new locker room, equipment upgrades, and more as Woodie tries to build a championship culture. He sees signs from the players despite the win-loss record.
“They’re starting to love each other,” he said.
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