Southern Alabama feasts on turnovers in ‘Declaration’ 38-14 win over Louisiana Tech

Southern Alabama hit a small wall after a quick start Saturday night against Louisiana Tech, but then their defense took over.

The Jaguars forced turnovers on four consecutive possessions from the Bulldogs in the second and third quarters, turning two of them into touchdowns and racing to a 38-14 win at Hancock Whitney Stadium. Southern Alabama finished the non-conference game 3-1, showing resilience after suffering their first loss of the season at UCLA the previous week.

“It was a game-breaking one in my mind,” South Alabama coach Kane Wommack said. “I’m really happy with where we are so far. We must continue to build on our momentum and build the consistency of our program that we seek. Is there a lot to get out of this game? Absolutely. But a statement nonetheless.

South Alabama led 17-7 when Louisiana Tech (1-3) took to the air to try to close the gap late in the first half. Linebacker Ke’Shun Brown and CJ Thompson stopped both drives with interceptions, Brown deep in Jaguars territory and Thompson near midfield.

Southern Alabama couldn’t cash in on any of the takeouts, but went to break double digits. And when the second half started, the Jaguars defense did not falter.

On Louisiana Tech’s second play in the second half, Yam Banks ran past a pass from Parker McNeil and ran 24 yards for a touchdown to put the Jaguars up 24-7. It was the second interception of the game for Banks and one of three turnovers he was involved in.

“We came back from (UCLA), back from the L, with a mentality,” Banks said. “In training all week, everyone was locked up. The coaches told us we were too good not to take the ball from people. That was our main focus this week.

Louisiana Tech switched quarterbacks on their next possession, but did no better with Matthew Downing in charge. Downing fumbled the ball after a hit from defensive end Jamie Sheriff, and Banks pounced on it at 21.

Two plays later, Carter Bradley found Caullin Lacy for a 19-yard touchdown, and the Jaguars were rolling. It was Bradley’s second of three touchdowns in the game and the second for Lacy, who also scored on special teams in the first half.

Bradley hit running back La’Damian Webb for 28 yards on the first play of the fourth quarter to make it 38-7. Bradley, the transfer from Toledo, went 14 for 21 for 178 yards and three touchdowns in the game.

“We kind of stuck to our game plan,” said Bradley, who now has 10 touchdown passes in four games this season. “We talked all week, what were we going to get (from Louisiana Tech)? We saw a lot of things that we really expected and we just enjoyed it.

Louisiana Tech scored the game’s final points on McNeil’s 5-yard touchdown pass to Griffin Hebert with 10:57 remaining, and the drive was costly for southern Alabama. Defensive end Brock Higdon was called for targeting third and long, keeping the Bulldogs’ drive alive and resulting in his ejection.

The call sounded like a boundary call, and Wommack argued vehemently (the officials’ microphones picking up his displeasure). Because the targeting foul occurred in the fourth quarter, Higdon will have to sit out the first half in Louisiana next week unless Southern Alabama uses the new appeal process. NCAA to target suspensions (which Wommack said he plans to do assuming the film study warrants it).

“There are times when you have to send a message to your football team, that their head coach is going to defend them when they are playing hard at the end of a game,” Wommack said. “The call was the call. They had their reasons for the call and I’m not going to dispute that, but my job is to defend my football team when our guys are playing hard. And that’s exactly what I I’m not going to apologize for that. However, I certainly recognize that it’s unprofessional. But a message had to be sent.

South Alabama beat Louisiana Tech 389 yards to 308, including rushing 175-57. Webb rushed for 75 yards on 14 carries, while rookie Braylon McReynolds added 51 yards on seven attempts.

Banks had three pass breakups and a tackle for loss, along with the two interceptions and the fumble recovery. The sheriff added five tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and the forced fumble.

South Alabama got off to a fast start, scoring a pair of touchdowns before the game was even four minutes old. The Jaguars went for 80 yards in six plays on their first possession – after McReynolds’ kickoff return for a touchdown was called back on a penalty kick – with Bradley hitting Lincoln Sefcik for a 3-yard touchdown with 12: 46 to go in the quarter.

Louisiana Tech then made three outs and punted, and Lacy returned the kick 57 yards for a touchdown to make it 14-0 at 11:10. The return touchdown was only the third in Jaguars program history, and the first since Tra Minter did it against Alabama State in 2017.

The Bulldogs got on the board in the second quarter, when McNeil joined Smoke Harris on a 48-yard touchdown pass that halved South Alabama’s lead to 14-7. South Alabama’s Diego Guajardo threw a 24-yard field goal with 8:54 left in the half to make it 17-7.

Southern Alabama got hurt with penalties, getting flagged 14 times for 131 yards — eight for 80 in the first half alone. But the Jaguars came up with several big defensive plays, stopping the Bulldogs on fourth down in the red zone and fending off McNeil four times – three times in the first half.

Next up: Southern Alabama opens Sun Belt Conference play in Louisiana next Saturday. Kickoff is scheduled for 4 p.m. at Cajun Field in Lafayette, Louisiana.

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